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'Play well tonight fellas': Cullen's message is clear as he urges his side to grasp opportunity

Leinster welcome Edinburgh to the RDS tonight with much more than five points on the line for those in blue.

It's a big night for JVDF and some of his Leinster team mates.
It's a big night for JVDF and some of his Leinster team mates.

A NIGHT OF opportunity awaits under the lights at the RDS.

Firstly, there is the opportunity for Leinster to move top of the Guinness Pro12; a bonus-point victory over Edinburgh [KO 7.35pm, TG4] would do just that with current leaders Munster and second-placed Ospreys going head-to-head tomorrow.

The eastern province have won their last three games in the league, scoring 132 points in wins over Ulster, Zebre and Treviso, and coming out with the maximum tonight is almost expected on home turf.

The RDS has become a real fortress for Leo Cullen’s side with Leinster winning their last 18 home games (including at the Aviva Stadium) in all competitions since a 16-20 defeat to Toulon in December 2015.

All the odds are stacked in their favour, particularly when you consider Edinburgh have registered just four wins all campaign and have failed to win on Irish soil in two years.

But there is so much more than points on the line, even if Cullen and Luke McGrath, who will captain Leinster this evening, were quick to downplay that at yesterday’s pre-match press conference.

With Joe Schmidt set to name his squad for the resumption of the Six Nations on Monday, opportunity knocks for the likes of McGrath to put their hand up and push their case for inclusion.

Leinster team huddle Leinster can go top with a bonus-point win tonight. Source: Alfio Guarise/INPHO

Cullen has named as many as 11 internationals in his starting XV for the visit of the Scottish side with Josh van der Flier and James Tracy’s availability a real fillip for the Leinster head coach.

Van der Flier, in particular, will be delighted to get back on the pitch and show Schmidt and the Irish management why he has developed into one of the most exciting young flankers in Europe after falling behind Sean O’Brien in the international pecking order.

The 23-year-old made cameos off the bench at Murrayfield and the Stadio Olimpico but was released by Schmidt this week in order to get minutes under his belt.

There’s no doubt he’ll be part of the Irish squad that reconvenes at Carton House next week but van der Flier will want to give Schmidt something to think about.

“The difficulty for guys in this period, you finish Europe, so Josh played against Castres and then there’s no game for a week, there’s an Irish camp that he’s involved in,” Cullen explained.

“Then the Six Nations team gets picked, there are two games and he’s on the bench for a couple of weeks. He’s played maybe a half hour in the last three weeks so just to get back playing. What made Josh really good in November is that he picks good lines, has a really good change-up in his carry, he’s as good as any carrier that Ireland had in the Autumn Internationals where he’s making clean line-breaks during games and, yeah, he really stood out.

“It’s just a really competitive position for Ireland, they’ve three pretty good guys starting. Tonight for Josh, it’s a chance for him to play and say ‘this is what I am able to do’ and make life pretty uncomfortable for whoever is making that call in terms of the selection for the next Ireland back row.”

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking at yesterday's pre-match press conference. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

From 1 to 15, it’s a big night for a lot of Leinster players.

Dave Kearney continues his comeback from injury with a second start in the space of a week while James Tracy is straight back into the team just six days after featuring in Ireland’s nine-try win over Italy.

Then there is Joey Carbery, who starts for the first time in two months after making his return from injury in the trouncing of Treviso last Sunday.

“We will see,” Cullen said when asked if the out-half could still play some part for Ireland in the remaining three Six Nations games.

“Joey came on at 15 at the weekend against Treviso, moved at one stage to 12, Ross [Byrne] did really, really well at 10. Again with a short turnaround, three games in 12 days, we’re trying to manage the group as well.

“We’ll see, Joey, it’s his first game at 10 in quite a while, since, what, Northampton away, where he lasted 15 minutes? We’ll see how he goes in the first half and we’ll make constant assessments after that. Obviously I can’t decide what is going to happen in terms of whether he goes into international camp or not. That’s for somebody else.”

On Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin and McGrath — who are all pushing for international recognition on the back of fine seasons at provincial level — Cullen added: “Those guys, they can’t be a million miles away can they?

“I’m seeing what you guys are seeing for the most part. Obviously I get to see our lads in training as well but, yeah, they’re working hard, it’s good. Obviously Adam is on the bench this week but for Rory and Noel and Zane [Kirchner] and Dave Kearney, who would have had a little bit less game-time, they’ll play again this week.

Dave Kearney scores a try 'If Dave plays well tomorrow night, those guys are in the shop window.' Source: Alfio Guarise/INPHO

“Guys are pushing hard. It’s been competitive in training which is pleasing. We haven’t had a huge amount of prep time this week but in the couple of weeks prior to that it’s been very competitive. The likes of Luke, Jack Conan, James Tracy, Dan Leavy, those four guys have been in and out of both environments. Those guys know that if they play well they will be in or around…so the moral of the story is ‘play well tonight fellas’.

The message is clear, although the players will hardly need to be told that this is a window of opportunity.

“There’ll definitely be people watching this game that will want to see what they’re about, not just coaches here,” Cullen added.

“Those guys are in the shop window and it is important for them to realise there’s constantly eyes on them. If you play well here, there’s a good chance you’ll get picked somewhere else. There are so many big games coming up.”

Leinster

15. Zane Kirchner
14. Dave Kearney
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Noel Reid
11. Barry Daly
10. Joey Carbery
9. Luke McGrath (c)

1. Peter Dooley
2. James Tracy
3. Mike Ross
4. Ross Molony
5. Mike McCarthy
6. Dominic Ryan
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan

Replacements:

16. Bryan Byrne
17. Andrew Porter
18. Michael Bent
19. Mick Kearney
20. Dan Leavy
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Ross Byrne
23. Adam Byrne

Edinburgh

15. Glenn Bryce
14. Damien Hoyland
13. Chris Dean
12. Phil Burleigh
11. Tom Brown
10. Duncan Weir
9. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne

1. Jack Cosgrove
2. Neil Cochrane (c)
3. Murray McCullum
4. Fraser McKenzie
5. Ben Toolis
6. Madnus Bradbury
7. Jamie Ritchie
8. Cornell Du Preez

Replacements:

16. George Turner
17. Derrick Appiah
18. Nick Beavon
19. Grant Gilchrist
20. Lewis Carmichael
21. Nathan Fowles
22. Jason Tovey
23. Blair Kinghorn

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Ryan Bailey

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