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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

'Josh is an amazing professional and it's a credit to him the shape he's in'

Leo Cullen is delighted to see Josh van der Flier back after a long lay-off with an ACL injury.

LEO CULLEN HAS credited Josh van der Flier’s relentless work-ethic and the diligence of Leinster’s medical team in getting the flanker back to peak condition after an eight-month lay-off.

Van der Flier will make his long-awaited return from a serious knee injury in Saturday evening’s Guinness Pro14 clash with Dragons at the RDS [KO 5.15pm, eir Sport/TG4/Premier Sports ]. 

Josh van der Flier Van der Flier is set for his first appearance since February. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The Ireland international ruptured his cruciate ligament during the Six Nations opener against France in Paris last February, but is now ready to make his comeback after coming through a protracted rehab programme in impressive physical shape.

The inclusion of van der Flier in a back row alongside Max Deegan and Jack Conan is an exciting prospect for Leinster fans, as the province return to the RDS for their first home game of the campaign.

“It’s unbelievable credit to him, the way he’s got back and the shape that he’s in,” Cullen said this afternoon. “Josh is one of the most diligent people you can come across and he’s worked incredibly hard with our S&C medical team.

“The work that goes on there is so important, the time invested into the players to make sure they can come back and be as ready as they can possibly be to play again.

“Josh is an amazing professional and a great example to a lot of our players.”

Van der Flier returns as one of 10 changes to the Leinster team for the visit of Bernard Jackman’s Dragons, with a host of internationals set for their seasonal reappearance, including captain Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Garry Ringrose and James Ryan.

Propping pair Ed Byrne and Andrew Porter get their first starts of the new season, with Seán Cronin continuing at hooker, while Conan keeps his spot at number eight, as Cullen names a strong side for the round three clash. 

After last week’s disappointing defeat to Scarlets, Leinster are bidding to hit the ground running at home and inject some impetus into their Pro14 title tilt ahead of a crunch block of fixtures. 

“We’ve been very fortunate over the last few seasons with the support we’ve had,” the Leinster head coach continued. 

“The players, particularly when we’re at home in the RDS, want to put on a show and be able to entertain and produce some big moments the crowd can get behind.

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking at this afternoon's pre-match press conference. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“It’ll be nice to be back at the RDS but there are lots of parts of our first few games that we can get better at. We can be mentally connected better in the game, for the whole game, and at times we’re allowing ourselves drift and it’s important we’re able to re-centre on the things that we’ve worked on and the things that we know make us a good thing.

“There’s a hell of a lot of things we can get better at, as you can see, for three weeks in a row now. There’s a lot of factors there, we’re trying to get guys up to speed, guys are being managed back in at different stages and we want to be firing on any given weekend.

“We want to build that competition as well which we hope will drive performances. A lot of guys have had opportunities, more guys get an opportunity this week and then we’ll make some selections based off that.”

On the challenge Dragons will pose, Cullen pointed to Jackman’s strong recruitment drive over the summer and the physicality the Welsh outfit will bring to the contest as key threats his side have to be wary of.

“It’s another good challenge for us,” he added. “Bernard Jackman knows us very, very well and knows what makes us tick in many ways as well which is always very dangerous.

“We need to be aware of the threat the Dragons are going to pose. They’re going to be very physical and strong in the contact area, as well as having a lot of skilful players out wide.”

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Ryan Bailey

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