'People have seen glimpses of his athletic ability' - Baird backed by Leinster

Leinster boss Leo Cullen also outlined the thinking behind picking Caelan Doris at blindside flanker.

LEINSTER FANS GOT several examples of Ryan Baird’s potential before rugby was put on hold this season – a hat-trick against Glasgow was the obvious highlight – but it’s fair to say that tomorrow will be another step up for the 21-year-old.

The second row has been named to start for Leinster against a strong Munster team as rugby resumes in Ireland, with Baird being backed to show his quality against the likes of World Cup winner RG Snyman, who debuts for the southern province.

ryan-baird Baird is set for his third Leinster start. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Formerly a star for the Ireland U20s and at schools level with St Micheal’s College, Baird trained with Andy Farrell’s senior Ireland squad during the Six Nations this year.

Clearly, he is a young player with a big future and his Leinster boss, Leo Cullen, is looking forward to seeing how 6ft 6ins Baird – who added several kgs of muscle mass to his frame during lockdown – does on the big stage tomorrow.

“It’s about trying to put him into the game and seeing how he copes with the demands,” said Cullen this afternoon.

“I thought he was making really steady progress before we broke up and he’s got himself in really good shape, stayed in very good shape over the course of the break.

“People have seen different glimpses of his athletic ability so it’s just about how he pulls it all together. With him and Fards [Scott Fardy], the average age is a bit more normal between the two of them so it’s a good mix of experience and youth. We’ll see how it goes and we have Dev [Toner] on the bench, which gives us a lot of security as well for later in the game.

“Ryan has trained well over the course of this lockdown period and he deserves his opportunity.”

Cullen named a potent-looking Leinster team as his men look to pick up where they left off in a 2019/20 season that has seen them win every game so far, with Johnny Sexton captaining from out-half.

The back row selection is particularly interesting with Jack Conan – fully fit again having last played at the 2019 World Cup with Ireland – and Caelan Doris, both best known as number eights, teaming up with Josh van der Flier.

jack-conan Jack Conan is back from a long-term foot injury. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The return of Conan is a major boost and although 22-year-old Doris has never started a game at blindside flanker for Leinster before, Cullen is excited to see how they combine.

“We tried it out a couple of times in training over the last few weeks and Caelan worked ok,” explained Cullen.

“Even with the make-up of the team with Scott Fardy, who does a lot of that six role as well, which will allow Caelan to hopefully be a bit more around the ball like a normal eight would be.

“That would be part of the logic there as well. Caelan has trained well along with Jack so we’re curious to see what the two of those guys look like together.”

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Cullen and senior coach Stuart Lancaster have opted for a 6/2 split of forwards and backs on their bench, with the head coach outlining that it is with the physical toll of the game in mind, as well as trialling the set-up for challenges further down the line – perhaps the European quarter-final against heavyweights Saracens next month.

“We went 6/2 split on the bench and that [possible physical toll up front in the first game back] is one of the reasons – we think it will be a bit more of a physical battle for the forwards.

“Normally in a pre-season scenario, you might get to change most of your team at half-time so we don’t get that luxury during this game.

“There was a little bit of that thinking allied to the fact that you think about South Africa winning the World Cup with a 6/2 split and England went to that during the Six Nations, which was interesting as well.

“It was just something we wanted to look at, there’s somewhat experimentation in that, but also certain factors why we would look to experiment.”

tadhg-furlong Furlong is missing after 'tweaking' his back. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Meanwhile, Cullen confirmed that tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong had been due for involvement this weekend but the Ireland international suffered a back issue in training.

It’s hoped the Wexford man will be fit again for Leinster’s clash with Ulster next weekend.

Cullen indicated that Leinster “may make some changes” for the Ulster game but he stressed there was a need to get his frontline players up to speed quickly, with the Pro14 play-offs getting underway in just two weekends’ time.

As for Munster, Cullen is looking forward to seeing what their two big-name signings will bring tomorrow.

“It’s been a challenge because we haven’t seen them play with Munster so we’re not sure what that’s going to look like,” said Cullen.

“We know they’re two very good players, we all saw them at the World Cup. Damian de Allande has a good skillset, is strong in terms of his running but he’s also got subtleties to his game, good footwork. I remember first seeing him when I was at a Crusaders game against the Stormers in 2014. He was a very good footballer and scored a try that day.

“I saw RG Snyman play for the South Africa U20s years ago and he’s been on the radar ever since. He’s a hugely big man, came through in South Africa and is still very young, for a lock that is, but not as young as one of our locks who is stepping into the team,  young in comparison to say Scott Fardy.

“It should be a good battle. We know it’s a huge game for Munster because of where they sit in their conference and trying to get ahead of Edinburgh. I’m sure they’re building strongly and it will be a great test for our guys.”

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Murray Kinsella

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