Leinster young guns take a step towards top prize

There was some degree of befuddlement in UCD earlier this week when Ross Byrne and Ross Molony found themselves being quizzed on the possibility of featuring in a Rugby World Cup in Ireland in 2023.

Neither has yet earned so much as a cap for their country.

The findings of World Rugby’s technical committee have since poured cold water on that particular picture but both out-half and second row will hope to take another small step towards the game’s ultimate representative honours in Scotstoun this evening when Leinster take on the Glasgow Warriors.

Molony will act as captain.

It’s a side with a frightfully callow sheen to it. Just three of the starting XV carry a hundred or more provincial caps, the youthful tinge accentuated by the presence at centre of Conor O’Brien who is making his senior debut.

Jordan Larmour makes a sixth appearance at full-back and Ed Byrne a 12th in the front row. Hugo Keenan will hope to add a second off the bench while Josh Murphy will be looking for his first sniff of the big time in a cameo role.

Babies making big steps.

Such is the way of things for a club deprived 14 of their 18 players named in Joe Schmidt’s national squad last week. And add to that the absences through injury of Jamie Heaslip — after confirmation of a second injury on his back problem — and Isa Nacewa.

Glasgow have been similarly hamstrung by the upcoming November Tests. Nineteen of their number were called up by Scotland but 11 internationals return to their squad in time for this second home meeting with Leinster inside a fortnight.

Leo Cullen’s side won that earlier Champions Cup encounter comfortably enough last month but it is asking a lot of this patched-up crew to do something similar. It may even be that the benefits of this trip are more of the long-term variety.

Rewind 12 months and Leinster were in much the same place as now. Optimism was rife thanks to an influx of youngsters and an encouraging opening to the season but the campaign ended with a whimper and the impression that the new generation still had a way to go.

Byrne takes the point but feels 12 months has made a major difference.

“I’ve probably come a long way in two years and, even since last year, I’ve probably improved quite a lot. I feel a lot more comfortable at this level as well and, as a whole, it makes it a lot easier when the team is winning. Everything is going well and personally very happy.” It’s small things and big things and imperceptible things.

He has played at this level before now, with and against many of these players. He’s been backing himself more, following his gut instinct. So that Ireland call-up?

Any idea if he is any closer to a phone call from Schmidt?

“To be honest, I’m not sure,” he said soberly. “The only thing I can do is keep playing for Leinster, play as well as I can and, hopefully, get a call. Everyone wants to play for their country. That is the goal.”

GLASGOW WARRIORS:

R Jackson; L Masaga, N Grigg, S Johnson, N Matawalu; P Horne, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, D Rae; T Swinson, S Cummings; R Harley, C Gibbs, M Fagerson.

Replacements:

P MacArthur, A Allan, A Nicol, L Wynne, M Smith, H Pyrgos, A Dunbar, L Sarto.

LEINSTER:

J Larmour; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, C O’Brien, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, S Cronin, M Bent; R Molony, M Kearney; S Fardy, J Murphy, M Deegan.

Replacements:

R Strauss, P Dooley, A Porter, J Murphy, D Leavy, N McCarthy, C Marsh, H Keenan.

Referee:

S Berry (SARU).



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