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'We're hoping for great things': Cullen continues Leinster's investment in youth

There are seven academy players named in the province’s squad for tonight’s Pro14 clash against Ospreys.

VICTIMS OF THEIR own success to a degree, Leinster’s unrivalled conveyor belt is now required to produce young talent at pace in order to fill the holes during these international windows.

Seven academy players have been included in Leo Cullen’s matchday 23 for tonight’s Guinness Pro14 clash against the Ospreys, three of whom are in line for senior debuts at the RDS [KO 7.35pm, eir Sport/TG4]. 

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking at yesterday's pre-match press conference. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Leinster used 55 players during last year’s double-winning campaign and the eastern province are well on their way to fielding a similar number this term, having already capped academy scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan.

Teenager Scott Penny will become the 1,271th player to represent Leinster when he starts at openside flanker, while fullback Jack Kelly and Jimmy O’Brien are also in line for first appearances off the bench against the Welsh region. 

Now providing as many as 19 players to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad, Cullen’s resources have been stretched further this month by injuries to senior players such as Joe Tomane, Fergus McFadden and Rory O’Loughlin.

While Leinster’s policy has always been to invest in youth, and it has certainly paid handsome dividends as their academy set-up is most revered, Cullen — who has made seven changes in personnel — has been left with no option but to throw academy players into the deep end early in their development.

As evidenced with the emergence of the likes of Jordan Larmour and James Ryan in recent seasons, the academy set-up and coaching the players receive ensures they are more than ready to step up to senior level when the call is made.

Tonight, former St Michael’s College student Penny is given his opportunity having impressed for Leinster ‘A’ during their recent Celtic Cup success, and there is certainly plenty of excitement over the 19-year-old’s potential.

An Ireland underage representative, Penny’s talent is such that his development has been accelerated by Leinster, as he bypassed the sub-academy to take his place in Year 1 at the start of this season.

His outstanding hat-trick against the Ospreys Development side in the Celtic Cup is another indicator of his readiness for this level, while touring South Africa with Leinster before the two-week break will have given him further exposure to senior rugby.

“There are a number of guys who went well in the Celtic Cup and Scott was one of those guys,” Cullen said.

“That was a really important competition, we’d love to have more of those A games throughout the course of the season. It was a very, very positive campaign for our guys and a number of players showed up well.

“It means a lot of those guys have at least played in a Leinster team over the course of the early part of the season so it’s not as alien or such a big daunting step up.”

Penny might be relatively small in height at six-foot but his work-rate around the park is exceptional, as is his all-round skillset on both sides of the ball.

1612730-e1542886418659-1024x672 (1) Penny makes his Leinster debut tonight. Source: Sportsfile

“It mainly comes down to work rate and working on your skills, poaching, tackling,” he says. “Once you’ve got two specific skills, you can work around those.” 

Penny is joined in a youthful back row by Josh Murphy and Caelan Doris, who has held off Max Deegan to start at number eight for the first time at the RDS. 

Captain Scott Fardy provides experience in the second row alongside Ross Molony, while Peter Dooley, James Tracy and Michael Bent are named in the front row as Leinster resume their Pro14 campaign. 

In the backline, Ireland sevens international Hugo Keenan makes his first start at fullback having made his debut off the bench against Zebre in November 2016, and Conor O’Brien and Noel Reid form the midfield pairing.

Keenan is joined in the back three by Ireland international Adam Byrne, who was in camp at Carton House last week, and the returning James Lowe after the Kiwi didn’t travel to South Africa for the game against the Kings.

With Ross Byrne on the bench for Ireland’s November international, Ciaran Frawley is handed another start at out-half having come on for his first appearance of the campaign in Port Elizabeth last time out. Nick McCarthy is picked at nine.

“There are a number of guys who get an opportunity this week,” Cullen continued.

“They’ve trained well and obviously coming back from South Africa, they’ve been working away. There was a bit of a break, we came back in for a good chunk of work last week which was good for a lot of guys to come through.

There are the same amount of points up for grabs as there is for every other Pro14 game. It’s a great chance for our guys. It will be a tough challenge against Ospreys, a well-coached team and a lot of experience in their team as well.

“We’re hoping for great things from some of our guys but it’s going to be a very tough challenge.”

While Ospreys are also weakened by players on international duty, Allen Clarke’s side has a more experienced look to it and will target this game as an opportunity to end their poor record at the RDS, having last won there in the 2012 Pro12 final.

Furthermore, the Welsh region have not beaten an Irish province on the road since winning in Galway in September 2016 and have only won once away this term, that being their 22-8 success at Zebre in round five. 

Out-half Sam Davies will make his 100th Pro14 appearance this evening, while James Hook, Cory Allen and flying winger Keelan Giles are all named in the Ospreys backline.

Clarke’s side currently sit third in Conference A, and can leapfrog Munster into second with victory in Dublin, but for a youthful team, this Leinster outfit is brimming with exciting talent.

As Leinster look to extend their lead at the top of Conference B, Cullen is looking forward to getting back in front of the home fans at the RDS, with over 16,000 tickets pre-sold for the round nine encounter.

“We had amazing support here for the last game against Wasps,” he added.

“That’s what we want to try and build, the support coming through the turnstiles makes a huge difference to the team. Creating the atmosphere for the players, hopefully there will be a bit of excitement on show tonight. It’s nice to be back at the RDS.”

Leinster:

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Adam Byrne
13. Conor O’Brien
12. Noel Reid
11. James Lowe
10. Ciaran Frawley
9. Nick McCarthy

1. Peter Dooley
2. James Tracy
3. Michael Bent
4. Ross Molony
5. Scott Fardy (captain)
6. Josh Murphy
7. Scott Penny
8. Caelan Doris.

Replacements:

16. Bryan Byrne
17. Ed Byrne
18. Vakh Abdaladze
19. Mick Kearney
20. Max Deegan
21. Hugh O’Sullivan
22. Jimmy O’Brien
23. Jack Kelly.

Ospreys:

15. James Hook
14. Hanno Dirksen
13. Cory Allen
12. Johnny Kotze
11. Keelan Giles
10. Sam Davies
9. Tom Habberfield

1. Rhodri Jones
2. Scott Otten
3. Tom Botha
4. Giorgi Nemsadze
5. Lloyd Ashley
6. Olly Cracknell (captain)
7. Sam Cross
8. James King.

Replacements:

16. Sam Parry
17. Gareth Thomas
18. Alex Jeffries
19. Rob McCusker
20. Will Jones
21. Matthew Aubrey
22. Luke Morgan
23. Tom Williams.

Referee: Marius Mitrea [FIR].

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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