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Leinster's fresh faces make their presence truly felt against Munster

The likes of James Lowe and Jack Conan came in to make a big impact in the win over Munster.

Murray Kinsella reports from the RDS

IF THERE WAS any concern on Leinster’s part that the six changes to their starting team after the Champions Cup final would have a negative impact, the doubts were gone as soon as the eighth minute against Munster this afternoon.

Indeed, the fresh faces were central to Leinster’s try, one that got them rolling in a 16-15 semi-final win that sets them up to take on the Scarlets in next weekend’s Pro14 decider at the Aviva Stadium.

James Lowe with Sammy Arnold James Lowe was man of the match. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Rhys Ruddock, who had come into the back row in place of Dan Leavy, was hot onto the scene to lead the counter-rucking turnover after James Ryan’s massive hit on Jean Kleyn as the game entered its seventh minute.

Out-half Ross Byrne – in for Johnny Sexton – had a couple of energetic darts at the line in the phases that followed, before the ball was moved to James Lowe, hungry for the ball after missing out on the Champions Cup final.

The Kiwi wing steamrolled Simon Zebo and offloaded to captain Isa Nacewa to take Leinster into the 22.

Joey Carbery – into the team at fullback – was quick to the ensuing ruck to collect the ball and offload to Ruddock, the flanker getting an aggressive carry in.

When the ball was recycled and shifted right, it was Jack McGrath waiting to receive – having replaced Cian Healy at loosehead prop. McGrath showed skill and vision to slip an inside pass to Lowe, always so hard-working off the ball.

Lowe’s second big burst took him past Munster’s James Cronin and he very nearly beat Zebo a second time, stumbling through the tackle attempt. Lowe couldn’t quite keep his balance, though, and needed an offloading outlet.

Running a superb support line to his right shoulder was number eight Jack Conan, who had missed out on the starting team for the Champions Cup final, who took the sublime Lowe offload and finished with glee.

Jack Conan scores the opening try Jack Conan crosses to score. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ruddock, Byrne, Lowe, Carbery, McGrath and Conan – six changes and six important roles in the opening try of the game, one that helped Leinster into a 10-3 half-time lead and ultimately proved crucial in their win.

The six fresh faces continued to make a strong impact throughout, and the changes were important in Leinster getting over the line against Munster in a tight and tense semi-final.

“The mental and physical toll that playing in these games takes is enormous, so I think it’s important that we did freshen things up,” said head coach Leo Cullen afterwards.

A couple of guys came in that were unlucky not to be picked the previous week. Those guys came in and did well.

“That’s what you need. It’s completely unrealistic to expect the same team to be able to front out in these big games, you just can’t do it now. All the while, we try to manage the group as best we can and we know we need to rely on a big number of players.”

Even at the very death, it was a player who hadn’t even been involved in the Champions Cup final at all who made an impact.

Max Deegan, only on the pitch a minute, pounced for the game-sealing turnover penalty as Munster desperately attacked into the Leinster half.

“That’s why we used as many players as possible this season, so it doesn’t seem like a big change when guys come in,” said Cullen.

Max Deegan and teammates celebrate winning a penalty in the final moments of the game Max Deegan secured the crucial final turnover. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You can see that at the very end of the game, and Max has played a huge amount of games. He comes on and comes away with a big turnover at the end, it’s incredible really. And there are other guys who will potentially come into the frame this week.”

Although Leinster do expect to have Johnny Sexton, Dan Leavy and Rob Kearney back in the frame for the Scarlets clash, Cullen and Stuart Lancaster certainly have some important calls to make in a few positions.

The changes today had an impact, but it was largely positive.

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Murray Kinsella

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