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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

Toner set to feature for Leinster in Pro14 opener away at Benetton

Ross Byrne and Dave Kearney are also in line to be involved in Italy this weekend after missing out on the World Cup.

DEVIN TONER IS in line to feature in the opening game of Leinster’s Guinness Pro14 title defence away at Benetton on Saturday afternoon having been the shock omission from Ireland’s World Cup squad.

Running out at the Stadio Monigo on the first weekend of the season would not have been in Toner’s plan, but the second row is expected to boost Leo Cullen’s side for their campaign opener against the Italian outfit [KO 5.15pm, eir Sport 1/Premier Sports].

devin-toner Toner during Leinster training at Donnybrook on Monday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Having trained with the Leinster squad at Donnybrook on Monday afternoon, Toner is likely to get the first chance to put the disappointment behind him this weekend, while both Ross Byrne and Dave Kearney are also set to start against Benetton.

“Dev will hopefully play this weekend,” Cullen said. “Ross and Dave Kearney, the two of them played against Northampton. Their attitude has been great since they’ve come back in from Ireland camp. 

“They’ve been good, they’ve applied themselves well so they’ve just got to get back out there now and put in a good performance for themselves and collectively for the team as well.”

While both Barry Daly and Ciaran Frawley are sidelined through injury, Leinster will have a strong squad to pick from for their trip to Italy, although the round one game is likely to come too soon for James Lowe.

The Kiwi winger underwent shoulder surgery during the summer and while Lowe has stepped up his recovery in recent weeks, he is unlikely to be pushed back too soon with Kearney, Cian Kelleher, Fergus McFadden and Adam Byrne available to Cullen in the back three.

Jamison Gibson-Park is fit again after a hamstring injury but Hugh O’Sullivan, who enjoyed a breakthrough season last term, is pushing for the number nine jersey, while Harry Byrne has impressed during pre-season at 10.

Up front, Ed Byrne, James Tracy, Michael Bent and Ross Molony provide plenty of experience in the absence of the internationals, with Scott Penny and Will Connors in an early season battle at openside.

“Scott has been good and himself and Will are fighting it out for that seven spot,” Cullen continued.

“Max Deegan played a little bit there last season but they’re the two out-and-out sevens with Dan [Leavy] out injured and Josh [van der Flier] away. The two guys there at the moment are fighting it out.”

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scott-penny Scott Penny is fit after shoulder surgery. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Overall, Cullen is hopeful a number of younger players who featured heavily during pre-season will hit the ground running when the serious business starts.

“There is a good chunk of guys that you’d hope will push on now,” the head coach added.

“I don’t want to really jinx anyone but from some of the Celtic Cup performances, guys have gone well. I’m hopeful there are a couple of guys who will come through well now in the next couple of weeks.

It is such a good day watching guys make their debut for Leinster. It is one of the real perks of the job, when you pick guys in the 23 and they feature on the field. Homegrown talent, that’s what we want.

“Hopefully we’ll see a few new faces for us over the next few weeks that will get to play for Leinster and then go on to feature for the rest of the season. 

“It has been a long pre-season and we’ve tried to break it up into different blocks. The guys have worked hard and we’re looking forward to putting it into proper practice now.

“Everyone wants to get back into competitive games and even watching the World Cup, we’re just keen to get up and running.”

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Ryan Bailey

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