Cullen backs academy winger O'Loughlin to hold his own among galaxy of interpro stars

The 22-year-old starts for Leinster tomorrow.

O'Loughlin worked his way into the reckoning after an impressive pre-season.
O'Loughlin worked his way into the reckoning after an impressive pre-season.

WHILE HIS HAND has been forced somewhat by injuries, Leo Cullen has placed faith in 22-year-old Rory O’Loughlin to justify his selection on the wing for tomorrow’s interpro clash with Munster.

O’Loughlin will make his first home start at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday after impressing during the early stages of the Pro12 season.

The Ireland underage international played the full 80 minutes in the hard-fought win over Cardiff last weekend and has featured in three of the province’s five outings this term.

And the absence of Fergus McFadden, Dave Kearney and Adam Byrne through injury for this weekend has meant O’Loughlin retains his starting berth on the opposite wing to captain Isa Nacewa.

“I know it’s a really big game but he’s trained well, looked sharp and played plenty on the wing before for the As,” Cullen explained this afternoon. “Ferg [McFadden] has done a bit of damage to his rec fem (quad) so he’s going to be out for a period and Dave Kearney is injured as well so it’s just to have a look at Rory.

“He’s a good player and he’s acquitted himself really well so far. We will see how he goes.”

Cullen has made 11 changes in personnel from the side that accounted for Cardiff last time out, with the head coach now able to select something resembling his full strength side.

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking at today's press conference. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

One player missing from the matchday squad, however, is Josh van der Flier with Cullen explaining that the flanker’s workload needs to be managed after a busy start to the campaign.

Robbie Henshaw has no such problems having waited patiently and bided his time to make his Leinster debut after a summer switch from Connacht.

The Ireland international has already become part of the furniture at the club, so much so that Cullen found it strange to see a zero beside his name on the team-sheet for tomorrow.

“Robbie has looked sharp, it’s a big game to come into but he’s trained well over the last couple of weeks,” he added.

“It’s funny to see a list and zero beside his name because he’s been around over the course of pre-season and training wise. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t actually played yet but I’m looking forward to see him in action.”

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With 39,000 tickets already pre-sold, Cullen won’t be the only one looking at the line-ups and licking his lips with anticipation — and the former second-row does admit there is more at stake than just points.

“It’s another Pro12 game of the 22, but there’s always a little bit more to it. There’s so much at stake with these games, provincial rivals, the sense of tradition over the years with the game, the rivalry that’s there with supporters and what’s coming up.

“All the players want to play well for what’s coming up in the immediate which is two big European games but then after that there’s the situation where Ireland are playing the All Blacks twice so there’s so much at stake in this game.

“It’s definitely a step up in what we’ve done so far.”

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Ryan Bailey

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