Leo Cullen won’t have been burning the midnight oil last night just because Munster threw a curveball by naming three out-halves in their back line for today’s Guinness PRO14 encounter in Dublin.
Rassie Erasmus has plumped for the in-form Ian Keatley at 10 with Tyler Bleyendaal wearing 12 and JJ Hanrahan slotting in at full-back. It makes for an intriguing selection but the Leinster head coach seems to have taken it in his stride.
“We won’t tweak or plan greatly based off that,” he said. “We knew Jaco Taute was out injured, that was reasonably evident early in the week. We probably would have made an assumption that (Rory) Scannell would have played 12 and Chris Farrell would have played 13.
“We weren’t sure about Bleyendaal, I know there has been a bit of coverage over his kicking stats so maybe that’s why Keatley got the nod there. But Bleyendaal is still an excellent player.
“JJ at 15 is a little bit different but, again, he’s a good footballer. Even from his previous stint with Munster, we would have seen him being a very versatile player for them.”
How it all comes together for the visitors will be fascinating — if it works the potential is obvious — but Cullen clearly rates the individual components behind the scrum. Keith Earls’ form is described as “devastating”. They’re all “very good footballers”.
Truth is, there are few genuine surprises these days.
Cullen would have pored over tapes of Hanrahan before Leinster’s two European meetings with Northampton last season and he was hardly trading in any state secrets when revealing Leinster had looked closely at Chris Farrell when the centre was with Grenoble.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) October 6, 2017
If there are options aplenty there then the visitors are in something of a hole in the second row where a string of injuries has left them hoping Billy Holland and Robin Copeland, backed up by Mark Flanagan off the bench, can avoid injury as Europe looms large.
“I wouldn’t say that’s a hole,” said Jack McGrath who starts for Leinster.
“They’re two capped internationals. Robin I know quite well from playing in (St) Mary’s. He’s an incredible athlete. Billy Holland is a strong powerful player.
“Again, I know Mark Flanagan. I don’t think any of them would be walkovers. We’re not taking any of them lightly. A game of this level, they’re going to be upping their game 10-fold. It’s not an area of weakness that we’re looking at.”
Leinster are themselves without Sean O’Brien who wasn’t considered due to a stamp to his calf last week but they will be relieved to see Robbie Henshaw make a belated season debut here after surgery on the shoulder he injured in New Zealand during the summer.
That aside, the main individual talking point on the Leinster side is the selection on the wing of Barry Daly who has claimed as many tries in three appearances this term — four — as he did in 10 last time. That includes a hat-trick in defeat to the Cheetahs two weeks ago.
The UCD man will be one of just five of the 30 players starting who hasn’t played senior international rugby and yet there is a youthful tinge to the afternoon as well with all but five in their 20s twenties. Nine of Leinster’s are actually aged 25 or under.
“It’s a massive game, it is one you look at,” said McGrath. “The guys who you are going up against are the guys you are fighting with for the Irish jerseys. It’s huge for us to be able to go out there and handle that with Leinster.”
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