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Kearney's return gives Leinster 'a real boost' for tonight's visit of Edinburgh

Leo Cullen’s side resume their United Rugby Championship campaign against the Scots at the RDS.

Dave Kearney in training earlier this week.
Dave Kearney in training earlier this week.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

LEINSTER HEAD COACH Leo Cullen is hoping Dave Kearney can leave an injury-plagued spell behind him when he lines out at the RDS this evening for a rescheduled United Rugby Championship clash with Edinburgh (kick-off 6pm).

It is almost nine months to the day since the Louth man last featured for the Blues in a competitive fixture – a Pro14 Rainbow Cup victory over Ulster in the same venue on 14 May of last year, to be precise.

He did see game time in an ‘A’ interprovincial contest against the northern province back in November after missing the opening weeks of the new campaign with an ankle issue, but subsequently sustained a back injury that further delayed his first official outing of the season.

Having scored 10 tries in 20 appearances throughout the course of 2020/21, Kearney had been eager to make an impression in the newly-launched URC. However, with the in-form Jimmy O’Brien marked absent after picking up a minor niggle, he takes his place in the back-three alongside youthful duo Jamie Osborne and Tommy O’Brien.

“It’s great to have someone of Dave’s experience back in the team. It’s just so important on both sides of the ball, the energy that our wingers give,” Cullen said.

“Dave had been going very, very well last year. Hopefully he can pick up from where he left off at that point. I know it has been a while, but he has looked sharp training-wise over the last couple of weeks.

“For us to have an experienced player like that coming into the group fresh at this time of year I think, hopefully, will give us a real boost. Hopefully he gets a good injury-free run-out now for the next number of weeks.

“It’s a lot easier for some of those young guys to kick on when they have the experienced guys around them. Hopefully Dave will bring that experience to some of the other guys that are out there as well.”

While tonight’s visitors – like Leinster – will be missing a raft of players to international duty, there will be a familiar face in their front-row. Having featured 37 times for Ulster over a four-year period, Ballymena native Adam McBurney joined Edinburgh in advance of the current campaign.

The 25-year-old hooker is Scottish-qualified through his Lanarkshire grandmother, having previously starred for the Ireland U20s on 17 occasions in the past. The Leinster half-backs for this evening’s game – Ross Byrne and Nick McCarthy – were his team-mates in the Irish underage ranks and Cullen is banking on a strong sense of familiarity to help curb McBurney’s influence.

leo-cullen-arrives-for-training Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

“He’s someone who has played in the RDS before for sure and he’s a physical player; throws himself about and we need to make sure we’re well aware of some of the threats Edinburgh have.

“A few guys will go hard around the contact area, in particular. I think he’ll probably be one of those individuals. It’s making sure we’re nice and accurate in how we deal with the threats they have.”

After a Jarrod Evans stoppage-time penalty saw them lose narrowly away to Cardiff (29-27) on 29 January, Leinster will be looking to kick-start a busy schedule with a win tonight.

This will be the first of five URC games in the space of 29 days for the eastern province, whose fixture calendar was disrupted by a significant number of Covid cases within their squad either side of Christmas.

The Ospreys will pay a visit to the RDS next weekend (Saturday 19 February) and Cullen anticipates that some of his Irish contingent will be made available for this game as the Six Nations enters into a fallow week.

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“The plan is for some guys to be released. Travelling away [to France], I think they’re bringing 30 players potentially, so a few of our guys are travelling as extras as well – which is fine. I think the team needs to have the right level of coverage for obvious reasons,” Cullen added.

“Hopefully we will potentially get some of those guys back next week, but we’ll have those conversations depending on how the weekend unfolds.”

Leinster: Jamie Osborne; Tommy O’Brien, Rory O’Loughlin, Ciaran Frawley, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Nick McCarthy; Ed Byrne, James Tracy, Michael Ala’alatoa; Ross Molony, Josh Murphy; Rhys Ruddock, Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Peter Dooley, Vakh Abdaladze, Devin Toner, Martin Moloney, Luke McGrath, Harry Byrne, Rob Russell.

Edinburgh: Henry Immelman; Ramiro Moyano, Matt Currie, James Lang, Emiliano Boffelli; Charlie Savala, Henry Pyrgos; Boan Venter, Adam McBurney, Lee-Roy Atalifo; Marshall Sykes, Glen Young; Ben Muncaster, Connor Boyle, Mesulame Kunavula.

Replacements: Dave Cherry, Sam Grahamslaw, Jake Armstrong, Pierce Phillips, Kwagga van Niekirk, Charlie Shiel, Jaco van der Walt, Cammy Hutchison.

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