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Cullen set to hand out debuts against Ospreys as Leinster return to work

The eastern province are back in action this Friday night at the RDS.

LEO CULLEN COULD include a number of uncapped players in his Leinster squad for Friday’s Guinness Pro14 clash against the Ospreys at the RDS, as the province’s depth chart is again tested.

After a two-week break, Leinster resume their Pro14 campaign against the Welsh region [KO 7.35pm, eir Sport/TG4] but will be without their Ireland internationals for the round nine encounter.

A general view of training Leinster training at UCD earlier this week. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

With Joe Tomane, Fergus McFadden [both hamstring], Rory O’Loughlin, Barry Daly, Will Connors [all knee] also absent through injury, Cullen’s resources — particularly in midfield — will be stretched for the next two rounds of Pro14 action.

But this window before the return of the internationals and resumption of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stages in early December will offer a number of young players their chance to stake a claim.

Leinster used 55 players during their double-winning campaign last year and having already handed a senior debut to Hugh O’Sullivan this term, could include the likes of Jimmy O’Brien, Rónan Kelleher and Scott Penny in Friday’s matchday 23.

All three were on the trip to South Africa for the victory over the Southern Kings in round eight and are in the mix for selection this week as Leinster bid to extend their lead at the top of Conference B.

“The Ospreys game is a great opportunity for us to invest in young players,” Cullen said. 

“It’s going to be great to see some players hopefully make their debut for Leinster and that’s an exciting time for those guys.

“That’s what we’ve been busy doing the last couple of weeks, making sure that those guys are ready to take the step and take on the challenge of the Ospreys on Friday.

“We’ll crack on and it’s a chance for us to see a few more guys play and try and build that depth. We talked about the 55 players we used last year and realistically we’re going to get to a similar number this year and hopefully that stands us in good stead for later in the season when we potentially miss players.”

From the team that defeated the Kings 38-31 last time out, Tomane and O’Loughlin will be missing but James Lowe is expected to come back into the side having scored six tries in as many outings this season.

Tomane suffered a serious hamstring injury in Port Elizabeth and after undergoing surgery to repair the damage, will be sidelined for the next five months while O’Loughlin is sidelined with a knee problem. 

Leo Cullen with Guy Easterby Cullen and Leinster team manager Guy Easterby. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We were going very, very well on the injury front,” Cullen continued. “But literally, in the space of 10 days, we lose Ferg to a nasty enough hamstring injury and then Joe just got caught on one leg when we’re about to score. 

“Rory twisted his knee in that game, but it’s not as bad. Seanie [O'Brien] comes back from his injury and breaks his arm and Robbie [Henshaw] in the warm-up of a game. You can see how quickly it can change.

“Outside backs and back rows, traditionally are the two ones that come under the most strain for us.”

Having won seven of their opening eight Pro14 outings this season, Leinster are in a strong position after the first block of fixtures but Cullen is wary of the threat Ospreys will pose under Allen Clarke on Friday.

That said, the Welsh side have not beaten an Irish province away from home since they won in Galway in September 2016, while their last win at the RDS was in the 2012 final when they beat Leinster 31-30. 

“Hopefully, it’ll be a good occasion for the people who do turn up because I think it’s always a very, very special time seeing players start for Leinster for the first time so hopefully some of them will go on to have great careers,” Cullen added.

“You’re never too sure what way some of the teams shape up at this time of year with the internationals and who’s in camp, who gets released to play so yeah we’ll see but for us, we’ll just try and prepare as best as we possibly can ourselves and hopefully that gives us the best chance.”

Cullen will name his team to face the Ospreys at noon on Thursday. 

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Ryan Bailey

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