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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 25 March, 2019

Depth the focus for Cullen as Frawley handed starting opportunity

The 21-year-old out-half will make his third start for the province against Ulster tomorrow evening.

A MUCH-CHANGED Leinster team comes as little surprise given what lies around the corner for the province, but Leo Cullen’s selection at out-half for Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 derby against Ulster is interesting. 

After replacing Johnny Sexton on the hour mark at Thomond Park as part of a pre-ordained move, Ciaran Frawley is handed a starting opportunity ahead of Ross Byrne in tomorrow’s sold out inter-pro at the RDS.

Ciaran Frawley Frawley starts against Ulster tomorrow. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The more experienced Byrne, who played the full 80 minutes against Connacht before Christmas but was given last weekend off, must settle for a place on the bench for the round 13 encounter, as Cullen continues his policy of building depth across his squad.

The Leinster head coach has carefully managed his resources across the busy Christmas and New Year period, and in line with that has made 14 changes in personnel for the visit of Dan McFarland’s Ulster ahead of next week’s European showdown with Toulouse. 

Frawley is handed just his third senior start for the province on the back of his 20-minute cameo against Munster last weekend, an assured display as a replacement fullback against Connacht and an impressive man-of-the-match performance in the November hammering of Ospreys.

The Skerries native, still in year two of the Leinster academy, is an exciting prospect and has shown progress this term, with his smart and accurate kicking game, willingness to take the ball to the line and crisp distribution skills all standing out.

“It’s about giving everyone in the group an opportunity to play across the three inter-pro selections,” Cullen explained at this afternoon’s pre-game press conference.

“So what we’ve done is started with different teams and mixed and matched from the bench. Ross started against Connacht, Johnny started last week and Ciaran starts tomorrow.

“We’ve started with three out-halves and with the 21 games we have in the league, and trying to challenge on two fronts, it’s important we build depth. You need to rely on your squad, you can’t rely on the same 15 to get you through the regular 21 Pro14 games, plus the six European games, plus what we hope is some playoff games at the end of the season.

It’s just making sure we’re conscious of the depth because it is a long season and we are going to have a fair share of injuries so this is a great opportunity for Ciaran.

“We wanted to expose him to Thomond Park last week and this is another great step for him, against Ulster in another inter-pro game and all the additional pressures that goes on top of that.”

Cullen will hope Frawley can show his maturity and game-management skills behind a Leinster pack which has been boosted by the return to fitness of Jack McGrath, while Rob Kearney and Barry Daly are also back in the starting XV following injury.

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking at the RDS this afternoon. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

McGrath has recovered from hip surgery to start in the front row, Kearney will captain the hosts from fullback after a dead leg and Daly makes his second appearance of the season after sustaining a knee problem against Cardiff Blues back in September.

Noel Reid is the only player retained from last weekend in Limerick as Cullen shuffles his pack and wraps most of his frontline internationals — Sexton, Furlong, Ringrose, Ryan et al — in cotton wool ahead of the final two rounds of Champions Cup action.

It means there are big starting opportunities again for the likes of Adam Byrne, Conor O’Brien, Scott Penny, Josh Murphy and Max Deegan, in addition to the aforementioned Frawley. 

Kearney, who will lead Leinster out for just the second time after captaining the province against Zebre back in October 2014, is looking forward to getting minutes under his belt again after missing the win over Bath at the Aviva Stadium and the festive inter-pros against Connacht and Munster.

“I am feeling good, I got a few sessions under my belt last week and was back on the field on Thursday,” the Ireland international said.

“I needed a few days of training to get back up and running, so I’m very excited to be out with lots of those young guns. I’m really looking forward to it.

“The key for me is to make sure my body is right, get some good games in and some decent training to get momentum. I’m happy enough but there is always room for improvement.” 

As Leinster bid to get back to winning ways, Kearney added: “We have a new squad, a lot of guys who weren’t involved and it is a new game, a new opportunity for everyone. We won’t be considering too much what happened last week.”

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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