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All eyes on Frawley at 10 but Leinster's pack must lead charge in Cape Town

Leo Cullen has rotated his side again as Leinster look for a big win against the Stormers.

Ciarán Frawley starts at out-half for the first time in over two years.
Ciarán Frawley starts at out-half for the first time in over two years.
Image: Steve Haag/INPHO

THERE WERE SOME South Africans who felt Leinster’s selection for last weekend’s clash with the Sharks was disrespectful to the Durban-based side and the URC as a competition.

Their perception was that Leo Cullen was sending out his second-string to get a hammering but those people were wrong on a couple of counts.

Firstly, it wasn’t Leinster’s second string. Some of those who started the game were third- or even fourth-choice in their positions when you take a realistic look at the province’s depth chart.

And more pertinently, Leinster were within inches of winning the game. They left Durban feeling they could have and should have won a thrilling contest. So they firmly shut the dissenters up.

Cullen has opted to rotate again for this evening’s clash with the Stormers [KO 5.15pm, RTÉ] but there’s no doubting that Leinster will once again believe they can make a mark and notch their first win in South Africa of the new URC era.

John Dobson’s Stormers have been impressive in rising up the URC table, undoubtedly helped by their last six games all being at home. They haven’t lost in Cape Town for seven consecutive matches. It’s an imposing challenge to break that streak but Leinster will be eager to rebound from last weekend’s defeat.

Dobson makes just three changes to a settled-looking team, with Warrick Gelant coming in at fullback after his impactful showing off the bench against Glasgow last weekend, with his fellow Springbok Damian Willemse returning to the number 12 shirt.

warrick-gelant Warrick Gelant starts at fullback for the Stormers. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The highly-experienced poacher Deon Fourie is back in the number six shirt, while 21-year-old JJ Kotze starts at hooker with Scarra Ntubeni out injured.

In-form out-half Mannie Libbok has been steering the Stormers ship calmly in recent weeks, Springboks scrum-half Herschel Jantjies is always a threat, Even Roos is a huge ball-carrying danger from number eight, and wing pair Seabelo Senatla and Leolin Zas have plenty of finishing power.

The Springbok propping duo of captain Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe will be aiming to do serious damage to Leinster at the scrum, one of the areas where the Sharks caused Cullen’s side big problems last weekend.

The Irish province’s maul work needs to be better too, so it’s clear that the Leinster pack needs to lead the charge in Cape Town. The backs, meanwhile, simply can’t afford to give up as many gilt-edged counter-attacking opportunities with their kicking game as was the case last time out.

Plenty of Irish eyes will be focused on Ciarán Frawley as the 24-year-old starts at out-half for Leinster for the first time since February 2020. He will be looking to offer more classy touches like the cross-field kick that set up Tommy O’Brien’s try last weekend, but his play-calling and tactical kicking will also be crucial.

With Andrew Porter swapping out after game time against the Sharks, Ireland-capped loosehead Ed Byrne comes into the front row alongside John McKee, who showed some promise on his debut last weekend, and young tighthead Thomas Clarkson.

The in-form Josh Murphy adds dynamism to the second row as Brian Deeny gets another cap after his first against the Sharks, with Alex Soroka given a chance in the back row along with captain Rhys Ruddock and Scott Penny.

cormac-foley Cormac Foley gets this first senior start for Leinster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There’s a first start at scrum-half for Cormac Foley, while his fellow academy players Max O’Reilly and Rob Russell are included in the back three. Off the bench, back row Seán O’Brien is set for his first appearance of the season.

So clearly, there is an inexperienced edge to this Leinster team as Cullen looks to give exposure to his wider squad, but there is always danger for their opposition.

The Stormers should have self-belief on home soil and while Leinster have a big cushion at the top of the URC table, as well as a home game against Munster to come, Cullen would dearly love a big result here to avoid any late drama when it comes to the play-off spots. This has all the ingredients for another cracker.

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15. Warrick Gelant
14. Seabelo Senatla
13. Ruhan Nel
12. Damian Willemse
11. Leolin Zas
10. Manie Libbok
9. Herschel Jantjies

1. Steven Kitshoff (captain)
2. JJ Kotze
3. Frans Malherbe
4. Adre Smith
5. Marvin Orie
6. Deon Fourie  
7. Hacjivah Dayimani
8. Evan Roos 

Replacements

16. Wilmar Arnoldi
17. Brok Harris
18. Neethling Fouche
19. Salmaan Moerat
20. Junior Pokomela
21. Ben-Jason Dixon
22. Paul de Wet
23. Juan de Jongh 

Leinster:

15. Max O’Reilly
14. Adam Byrne
13. Jamie Osborne
12. Rory O’Loughlin
11. Rob Russell
10. Ciarán Frawley
9. Cormac Foley

1. Ed Byrne
2. John McKee
3. Thomas Clarkson
4. Brian Deeny
5. Josh Murphy
6. Alex Soroka
7. Scott Penny
8. Rhys Ruddock (captain)

Replacements:

16. Lee Barron
17. Michael Milne
18. Vakh Abdaladze
19. Jack Dunne
20. Seán O’Brien
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Harry Byrne
23. Martin Moloney

Referee: Craig Evans [WRU].

- This article was updated at 8.49am on 30 April to remove an incorrect reference to Leinster playing at altitude in Durban in the sixth paragraph. Durban is a coastal city.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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