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Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Billy Stickland/INPHO
# New Season New Dawn
Cullen seeks to earn his crust in bread and butter opener
Leinster open their PRO14 campaign against Dragons at the RDS tonight.

SO JUST 20 days after last season ended, the new campaign begins. “It is our bread and butter,” said Leo Cullen in defence of a competition his team won easily in a 2019/20 season that endured a World Cup and a pandemic.

The easy thing to do is look at this evening’s date with the Dragons and get a little snobby. After all, the Welsh region have failed to post a positive win/loss ratio in a Pro14 campaign since the 2004/05 season and lately things have been grim: five league wins last year coming on the back of five the year before and just two in 2017/18.

“Look, you turn up for work and our job is to go out and represent Leinster the jersey the way it should be represented, it doesn’t matter who the opposition is,” Cullen said. “We need these games because this is the day-to-day business that we’re involved in. I know there’s going to be no supporters in the stadium but there are supporters who’ll be tuning in on TV and it means a lot to these people. That is what we are paid to do. It is Dragons this week, Treviso next. The show goes on.”

Dragons, Treviso, Zebre.

It is hardly a daunting start to the season yet what is often overlooked is that these are the opponents where it often starts for Leo’s Cubs. Scan through the stats of all the new arrivals into the Leinster side since the 2015 World Cup. Dragons at the RDS tends to be a testing lab. “It’s part of our philosophy,” said Cullen, “to bring more young players through.

“You have to remember that it means a huge amount to those players to play for Leinster for the very first time and we hope that’s what kids all around the province, male and female, dream about doing. Certainly it is what we are trying to push.”

More immediately the push for a fourth successive PRO14 title is underway and even if Cullen did talk about going about it ‘step by step’ yesterday and avoiding ‘setting too many lofty goals’, the reality is they are in the business of winning. It is up to everyone else to raise their own standards.

So a few things will be tried out tonight. Hugo Keenan gets a shot at full-back, having impressed on the wing last month and it will be interesting to see how Ciaran Frawley gets on at inside centre.

leinsters-ciaran-frawley-and-ian-madigan Billy Stickland / INPHO Ciaran Frawley gets another opportunity for Leinster tonight. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“We need to broaden some of our options,” said Cullen. “Conor O’Brien is injured at the moment and with Joe Tomane leaving as well, looking at Ciaran in there is something that we need to invest some time in, for lots of different reasons. We think Ciaran can do a very, very good job for the team there. He’s a very skilled footballer and he’s gone well with some of the opportunities that he’s had so it’s something that we’re keen to invest some time in. Robbie (Henshaw) will probably come back into the reckoning next week.”

Then there are the Dragons, who shopped well in the summer and should put up a bit of resistance this evening. “They’ve got plenty of talent,” said Cullen. “They’ve signed some good players over the summer with lots of experience plus they have some really good young players. 

“Aaron Wainwright is probably one that stands out – a really good young player who impressed for Wales at the World Cup. They’re going to be a handful for us and we need to make we’re on our game. It will be a good challenge for our guys.” 

Leinster

15. Hugo Keenan 
14. Jordan Larmour 
13. Garry Ringrose 
12. Ciarán Frawley
11. James Lowe 
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Jamison Gibson-Park 

1. Ed Byrne 
2. Rónan Kelleher
3. Michael Bent 
4. Scott Fardy 
5. James Ryan
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan 

Replacements

16. Seán Cronin 
17. Cian Healy
18. Andrew Porter 
19. Ryan Baird
20. Max Deegan 
21. Luke McGrath 
22. Ross Byrne 
23. Tommy O’Brien

Dragons 

15. Will Talbot-Davies

14. Jonah Holmes

13. Nick Tompkins

12. Jamie Roberts

11. Ashton Hewitt

10. Sam Davies

9. Rhodri Williams (c)

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1. Brok Harris

2. Elliot Dee

3. Aaron Jarvis

4. Joe Davies

5. Joe Maksymiw

6. Aaron Wainwright

7. Harrison Keddie

8. Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Conor Maguire, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Taine Basham, Tavis Knoyle, Josh Lewis, Adam Warren

 

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discuss the provinces’ 2020/21 starts, the South African-infused Pro16, and the schools-versus-clubs dynamic in Ireland


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