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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 28 May, 2020

Kearney sits out with 'knock', as Cullen strives for cohesion in selection

The fullback picked up a knock at the Rec last week and misses Saturday’s round four encounter at the Aviva Stadium.

ROB KEARNEY’S INJURY FRUSTRATION continues, after the Leinster fullback was ruled out of Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup clash against Bath [KO 5.30pm, BT Sport] with an unspecified knock. 

Kearney, having endured a stop-start first half of the season with quad and shoulder injuries, sustained the ‘knock’ in last Saturday’s round three win at the Rec and failed to come through the training week.

Rob Kearney Kearney misses tomorrow's game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen didn’t elaborate on the nature of Kearney’s injury at this afternoon’s pre-match press conference, other than the 32-year-old is ‘touch and go’ for next week’s Pro14 inter-pro against Connacht.

In Kearney’s absence, Jordan Larmour switches to fullback with Adam Byrne coming into the starting XV as one of three changes in personnel from last week, as Jack Conan and Rory O’Loughlin are also promoted from the bench.

Johnny Sexton was able to shake off a calf problem to start and captain Leinster against the Premiership outfit, while both Josh van der Flier and Tadhg Furlong are fully fit and ready to go despite sitting out this morning’s captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium.

“It’s something we often do, just try and manage players’ load throughout the course of the week depending on how much they’ve done as well,” Cullen said. “Those guys are fine.” 

Bath’s dominance at the breakdown last week has forced Cullen into a rejig in the Leinster back row, with Conan restored at number eight and Dan Leavy named at blindside. Rhys Ruddock drops out. 

In midfield, O’Loughlin will partner Garry Ringrose — who is set to win his 50th Leinster appearance — with Noel Reid dropping down to the bench, while Byrne comes onto the right wing for his first European start since last October.

“We discussed about potentially bringing other guys in as well to freshen things up but it’s trying to get the balance,” the Leinster head coach explained.

“We’re different to a lot of other teams as we have a challenge trying to build a bit of cohesion at various different stages. For the most part, we’ve kept it pretty similar and I think that will hopefully we’ll be able to build on some of the good things that we produced last week. But there were plenty of parts of the performance that probably frustrated us a little bit. 

“Overall, we try to have a bit more cohesion in selection. There are lots of moving parts so it can be a tricky challenge for us at this time of year. We were pleased to get a win at Bath, that was the most important thing, and for us now we try to really drill into the performance part and how we can improve as a group.

“We’ve seen over the years, the back-to-back games, just because you win away doesn’t automatically guarantee any success the following week. We’ve had to work hard as a group this week to ensure we’re better.”

Leo Cullen Cullen during today's captain's run. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

With over 43,000 tickets pre-sold, Leinster will look to continue their strong record at the Aviva, having won their last 10 games at the national stadium, while they are also unbeaten at home in the Champions Cup since Toulon in December 2015. 

The weather forecast, however, may force the province into changing their plan of attack, with heavy rain scheduled to hit the capital for much of Saturday. They key for Cullen is how his team adapt and get the job done whatever the conditions.

“We’ll see what the conditions throw up, as there is due to be a lot of rain again tomorrow,” he added.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be able to adapt on the day and that’s going to be important for us. We have to understand we have a plan on how we want to go out and play against Bath.  

“Hopefully, the week together will be good for us as the last five or six weeks have been a little bit disjointed. It’s a great challenge for us. The Girvan [Dempsey] factor knowing the group well, so there are lots of things we need to overcome and be aware of.

“Bath are a team that are very well resourced and very ambitious, and an owner that is looking to be successful. They’re fighting for their last chance in the tournament, so it’s going to be an unbelievably tough challenge.” 

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Eddie O’Sullivan preview another big weekend of Heineken Cup action and dissect the week’s main talking points.

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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