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Sharks will relish opportunity to take down experimental Leinster selection

Leo Cullen’s side will have to battle Springbok internationals and challenging conditions in Durban today.

Leinster prop Thomas Clarkson.
Leinster prop Thomas Clarkson.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

ANOTHER STRONG SEASON has left Leinster with the space and scope to bring a largely experimental group to South Africa, with Leo Cullen naming an interesting starting team for today’s meeting with the Cell C Sharks in Durban [KO 5.15pm, TG4/Premier Sports 2/URC TV].

This will be Leinster’s first encounter with the Sharks and the South African side should represent a good challenge, their physical, aggressive approach the sort of gameplan which has the potential to make life uncomfortable for the province.

The Sharks have won six of their last seven in the URC and have lost just once at home this season, Edinburgh winning 21-5 at the Kings Park last month, their recent surge leaving them sixth in the table, right in the middle of an intriguing battle for a home quarter-final in the play-offs. 

“They play a kicking game and are strong around the contact area, that’s probably the best way to describe it,” Cullen says.

“So it’s making sure we’re cued up and ready to play that type of game, and how we try to impose our own game on the opposition then as well.” 

Even with the big hitters left at home, Cullen will relish the chance to test his players against physically imposing opposition, something which doesn’t happen often enough across Leinster’s season.

This Sharks team is full of quality. The home side boast a powerful frontrow trio of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Thomas du Toit, while Springbok captain Siyi Kolisi and winger Makazole Mapimpi also start. They’ll be determined to take a big scalp today, even if it’s not a particularly familiar-looking Leinster side.

Rhys Ruddocks captains Leinster, while Ireland internationals Andrew Porter and Ronan Kelleher start in the front row as they look to get their match fitness up ahead of the 7 May Heineken Champions Cup date with Leicester Tigers.

Their experience and leadership will be key in a youthful-looking selection, with Academy pair Brian Deeney and John McKee in line to make their senior debuts as Chris Cosgrave makes his first start at fullback. Deeney starts alongside Jack Dunne in the second row while hooker McKee is named on the bench.

Leinster arrived in Durban following an extremely difficult few weeks for the city, with flooding leading to the deaths of at least 448 people, with 4,000 home destroyed and almost 40,000 people displaced across the eastern city and the surrounding KwaZulu-Natal province. 

Even with the heavy rain, temperatures have been high the humidity will be another challenge for the province.

“There has been a lot of rain here and a fair bit of devastation as well so that’s one thing we are very respectful about,” Cullen says.

“We are well acclimatised to the rain in our beautiful country but it is going to be hot out there for the week and it is the humidity (that is the challenge). You can see it in a lot of Sharks games in particular, a very different type of challenge.

“Even some of the games where its not raining, some of the players are drenched because of the humidity and with high temperatures on top of that.

“The environment is certainly going to be a bit alien to us so that’s why we tried to get here as early as possible coming off the Connacht game. It’s a great challenge for the guys we have here and a chance for the coaches to spend time with those lads and build relationships which we hope will go long into the future.”

CELL C SHARKS: Aphelele Fassi; Werner Kok, Ben Tapuai, Marius Louw, Makazole Mapimpi; Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse; Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas du Toit (captain); Le Roux Roets, Gerbrandt Grobler; Siya Kolisi, Henco Venter, Phepsi Buthelezi.

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Replacements: Kerron van Vuuren, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Khutha Mchunu, Reniel Hugo, Jeandre Labuschagne, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Grant Williams, Boeta Chamberlain.

LEINSTER: Chris Cosgrave; Tommy O’Brien, Jamie Osborne, Ciarán Frawley, Rory O’Loughlin; Harry Byrne, Nick McCarthy; Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, Thomas Clarkson; Brian Deeny, Jack Dunne; Rhys Ruddock (captain), Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Replacements: John McKee, Peter Dooley, Michael Ala’alatoa, Josh Murphy, Alex Soroka, Cormac Foley, David Hawkshaw, Martin Moloney.

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (GRU)

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Ciarán Kennedy

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