Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Ben Brady/INPHO Jack Conan returns to the Leinster team today.
# Mixed news
Leinster welcome back Lions but doubts over Henshaw as centre misses out again
Leo Cullen’s side host the Scarlets at the RDS this evening.

THE GOOD NEWS first. On paper, there is a lot to be excited about how Leinster will line-up against the Scarlets at the RDS this evening [KO 5.15pm, TG4, S4C, Premier Sports and URC TV].

The first thing that catches the eye is that front row, with Leo Cullen naming Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong in the same team for the first time. One imagines it won’t be long before we see those three sharing a pitch while wearing green jerseys.

For Furlong, it’s a first run-out since returning from the Lions tour to South Africa. In the back row, first-time Lions tourist Jack Conan also comes back in. Johnny Sexton captains the side at out-half, with Garry Ringrose returning at centre and James Lowe restored on the wing. This is a team that will look to play.

The bad news? Robbie Henshaw’s name is yet to appear on a Leinster teamsheet this season, and Cullen admits the centre’s foot injury is proving more problematic than expected. Cullen doesn’t expect Henshaw to feature next weekend, either, making him a doubt for Ireland’s autumn internationals.

“It’s just been a little slower than we would have thought, so it’s unlikely he will play in this block but hopefully he won’t be too far behind after that,” Cullen said.

“In the past he’s come back reasonably seamlessly off the back of breaks with the various different injuries that he’s had. He tends to come back in a good place. He’s training away but he’s just not able to play right now. I think once he’s back he’ll be able to go straight back in, whatever team that is with.”

It’s news that will concern Andy Farrell, but that’s a problem for another week. Today, the Ireland head coach will want to see the likes of Furlong and Conan hit the ground running, with the All Blacks due in Dublin in just four weeks time.

He’ll also watch on with interest as Leinster’s exciting new Porter-Kelleher-Furlong combination gets its first outing. With Cian Healy reverting back to loosehead cover on the bench, Cullen acknowledged there are a lot of moving parts in this new-look Leinster front row.

“We are pleased the way it has worked out and we will have some different conversations with the individuals depending on what teams need etc,” Cullen said.

tadhg-furlong Ryan Byrne / INPHO Tadhg Furlong will make his first apperance of the season. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“But overall, from where we started to where we are now, I think it has been encouraging.

“I think Tadhg just showed how important a player he is on the Lions Series. He is coming in for his first game of the season. Rónan during that (Ireland) summer series featured strongly and had a big year last year. If you think starting off, wind the clock back 14 or 15 months, to the experience Rónan has now.

“It’s just seeing how he kicks on now. It’s not second season but he is off the back of a very big season. Can he deliver another big season off the back of what he has achieved last year? So just how guys kick on now. They trained hard over the course of the summer.

Rónan in particular has had the advantage of going out to the Lions and seeing how some of the top players in the northern hemisphere operate and seeing some of the South African guys up close as well. As a young player he is a sponge for information as well so he has taken a lot in and it is just about how he adds to his own game now and deliver. 

“With the Andrew one, it was just trying to see him with slightly different combinations. Obviously he didn’t feature last week, so he is back in. Again, we are pretty open-minded, whether he switches back to tighthead or not. It will depend.”

After last weekend’s thrashing of Zebre, Cullen will expect a sterner test from Scarlets, who will surely be improved on their own sorry defeat to Munster.

That said, it’s hard to see anything other than a home win here. Scarlets have won just twice at the RDS across 15 visits in all competitions, while Leinster ran out 52-25 winners when they last met in Llanelli back in January. 

“I don’t think we’ve really hit our stride yet in the three games, we’ve shown glimpses at different stages so it’s just trying to be more consistent over an 80 minute performance,” Cullen added.

“We have a decent team here on paper, but that’s on paper, it’s about going out now and delivering together as a group.”

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LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Ciarán Frawley, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong; Ross Molony, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. 

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Ryan Baird, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Jimmy O’Brien.

SCARLETSIoan Nicholas; Johnny McNicholl, Jonathan Davies (captain), Johnny Williams, Ryan Conbeer; Sam Costelow, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Will Griff John; Sam Lousi, Lloyd Ashley; Aaron Shingler, Tomas Lezana, Blade Thomson.

Replacements: Ryan Elias, Rob Evans, Samson Lee, Morgan Jones, Shaun Evans, Kieran Hardy, Dan Jones, Tom Rogers.

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen [SARU] 

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discuss depth in Munster, Nathan Doak’s Ireland prospects, and whether rugby is survival of the richest on The42 Rugby Weekly

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