After handing a debut to Joe McCarthy against the same opposition just under a year ago, Leo Cullen is excited to see what the future has in store for the Leinster young guns that take on Cardiff in the United Rugby Championship at the RDS on Saturday evening (kick-off 5.05pm).
Should they be called upon off the bench, James Culhane and Aitzol King - Six Nations Grand Slam winners with the Ireland U20s last year - will become the latest players from the eastern province to make their bows in the professional game. Additionally, there are seven more prospects within the match day 23 who have accumulated 10 caps or fewer in the blue of Leinster to date.
“Joe was thinking back and a lot has happened since that game a year ago. Obviously he has gone on to represent Ireland as well. That’s the game, isn’t it? We’ve two uncapped players on the bench, it will be amazing to see their journey. If they were to fast forward a year, to where Joe is,” Leinster head coach Cullen said.
“Obviously he’s with the Ireland squad now, got capped before Christmas. That’s how quickly things can change in this business. For us, you look back on some of those games and you see some of the players involved. How things do change.
“The group at the moment is just about the group at the moment and trying to make its own mark. That’s the important thing. There’s a lot of excitement amongst the players about the privilege of representing the team. Particularly when you’re playing in front of some of the crowds that we’ve had in recent weeks.”
When Cardiff played host to Leinster in that aforementioned game on January 29 of last year, a stoppage-time Jarrod Evans penalty helped the Welsh outfit to secure a dramatic 29-27 victory. Evans has been included in Dai Young’s selection for the trip to the URC pace-setters, but Leinster still have plenty of experience to go along with their abundance of youthful talent.
The son of former Grand Slam-winning Wales coach Mike, Rhys Ruddock captains the side on the occasion of his 217th provincial appearance. Luke McGrath joins forces with Harry Byrne at half-back, while Dave Kearney is named on the left-wing for his first outing in more than two months.
Having been sidelined since early October with a bicep injury, Will Connors also makes a welcome return amongst Leinster’s replacements.
C Cosgrave, M O’Reilly, L Turner, B Brownlee, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath; M Milne, J McKee, M Ala’alatoa; R Molony, B Deeny; R Ruddock, S Penny, M Deegan.
T McElroy, M Hanan, T Clarkson, J Culhane, W Connors, N McCarthy, C Tector, A King.
R Priestland; O Lane, R Lee-Lo, B Thomas, J Harries; J Evans, L Williams; B Thyer, K Myhill, K Assiratti; L Timani, S Davies; J Turnbull, J Botham, J Ratti.
K Dacey, C Domachowski, W Davies-King, R Thornton, S Lewis-Hughes, E Bevan, A Summerhill, M Morgan.