Leo Cullen has rejected the accusation he has disrespected the Guinness PRO12 as a competition by leaving Ireland internationals Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip out of the Leinster team to face Edinburgh tonight.
The Leinster coach is seeking to finish off the season with three wins from three to ensure the province a home semi-final, but the challenge posed by the Scots will have to be completed without Sexton, Heaslip and Isa Nacewa, who are all rested. However, Rob Kearney has recovered from a hamstring injury and will make only his seventh start of the season for his province.
“I think we’ve got 15 star players starting. That would be my message,” Cullen replied to a reporter yesterday the province’s training base at UCD. “This is the best team to represent Leinster this weekend. These are 15 star players in my eyes.” Regarding the well-worn debate about where the PRO12 ranks in comparisons to its English and French counterparts, the Premiership and the Top 14, Cullen suggested it was a futile effort to compare them given the different make-ups of the other competitions.
Besides that Cullen pointed out that it was an exciting weekend for the PRO12 and the Leinster coach is spot on in that assertion. Edinburgh arrive in Dublin looking to turn the heat up on Munster in the battle to claim the final Champions Cup qualification spot while Anthony Foley’s men travel to Connacht tomorrow looking to upset the season’s surprise package, who are level on points with Leinster.
In addition, the reigning champions, Glasgow Warriors, will visit Scarlets tomorrow afternoon in a scrap between third and fourth with the hosts’ fighting to make the Pro12 semi-finals for the first time in their history.
“I would rather talk of the positives of those games rather than talk about the negatives or compare us to other leagues,” said Cullen.
“Why not talk about the positive that there were 43,000 in the Aviva for our last home game [against Munster]. How many teams around the world had 43,000 for their last home game? I wouldn’t say there was any and that’s an unbelievable positive. I would say it is easy to pick things apart but can we focus on the odd good thing as well because it is easy to bash the PRO12.
“We are making do with what we’ve got and it is important not to lose sight of some of the positive things as well. The reality of dealing with four different nations in the competition [is that] there’s logistical issues that the other two competitions don’t have. If you stack us up to Super Rugby, which again is across different nations, you see them playing in big stadiums with not many people in them, but people will rave about the quality of rugby. We don’t play in the same conditions as some of those teams do, we’ve got different challenges. We’re still aspiring to be the best team in Europe so we’re still working toward that goal.”
To that end Cullen has freshened up the team that narrowly edged past Munster two weeks ago. He has made 12 changes for the visit of Edinburgh to the RDS tonight.
Only Ben Te’o, Jordi Murphy, and Rhys Ruddock, named as captain, have survived but it is hard to argue that Leinster have been weakened when Ireland internationals such as Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan, Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, and Josh van der Flier are called up.
Edinburgh have been slowly developing their own style under Alan Solomons which is centred around a destructive scrum and suffocating maul. However, it is more than a decade since the Scots claimed a victory in the Irish capital and if Cullen’s assertion is correct, Leinster should boast too much firepower for them to handle.
R Kearney; F McFadden, B Te’o, N Reid, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, L McGrath; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; R Molony, M Kearney; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Murphy.
S Cronin, P Dooley, T Furlong, D Toner, D Ryan, E Reddan, C Marsh, D Kearney.
B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, P Burleigh, T Brown; J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dickinson, R Ford (capt), WP Nel; A Bresler, B Toolis; J Ritchie, J Hardie, C Du Preez.
S McInally, R Sutherland, J Andress, A Toolis, M Bradbury, H Watson, S Kennedy, M Allan.
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