Billy Stickland/INPHO Molony gets his big break against Bath.
opportunity knocks

Cullen on Ross Molony: 'He's unlucky to miss out on the national squad but he's going well'

Six years on from his European debut, the big second row is ready for his second coming.

IT REMAINS THE most significant team selection of Leo Cullen’s career. Certainly it was the most controversial. Bath were the opponents then, too. It was January 2016, Leinster already out of the competition and missing eight Ireland internationals.

This was when Cullen opted to pick three players from his academy, two of them in the pack.

In all there were six European debutants – enough for some to say Cullen was disrespecting the competition. Leinster won by the way and the players he picked – Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong, Josh van der Flier – have certainly done alright for themselves since.

So for that matter have the other three Champions Cup newbies – James Tracy, Peter Dooley and Ross Molony.

Molony, though, is still waiting for a break to some extent even though he has regularly featured for the province in the URC. Europe is different, though, and he gets a rare opportunity here, James Ryan ruled out, Devin Toner down the pecking order. Ironically, it is Bath again, where it started for him.

“Ross is a very, very smart player to begin with,” said Cullen yesterday. “He’s been an important player in the group for a long, long time now but I understand where you’re coming from in that he’s had to be patient to get past certain players.

“He’s a very important on-field communicator for us on game day but also during the training week. He’s very, very smart and understands the game incredibly well and has a glue sense to the group, so will help all the players around him in terms of his organisation and leadership ability.

ross-molony-celebrates-after-the-game James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“So he’s been going great, Ross, I think he’s unlucky obviously to miss out on the national squad but he’s definitely on the radar there.

“It’s just for him to focus again on putting in a big performance. We know he’ll deliver the organisation piece for the rest of the group, so it’s making sure he delivers for his own sake as well; it’s trying to get that balance in his game.

“It’s another positive step in his development every time he gets to play, particularly in these big European games.”

Scanning the Leinster team sheet back then in January 2016 was interesting as it gave a hint of what would become the norm under Cullen.

He likes to mix youth and experience, did then, still does now. It’s why you see Johnny Sexton, at 36, mixing it in the same backline as Jimmy O’Brien, who makes just his second European start.

Then you have Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw – reliable operators who add stability to any side.

“Away from home, Robbie just brings that bit of physical presence,” says Cullen. 

robbie-henshaw-and-marcus-rea Ryan Byrne / INPHO Cullen expects Henshaw to bring physicality. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“He’s delivered on the highest stage and it’s amazing for us to have a player coming in like that fresh for us, off the back of training well, towards the tail end of last week in particular. 

“So, he was able to attack the week nice and fresh. He is looking for a big performance which will hopefully lead into the Six Nations as well.
“That’s what a lot of guys are looking for, to get good decent form now because we are down to the serious stuff: last round of Europe, leading into the Six Nations window, European seedings and all the rest.

“That Garry and Robbie work incredibly well together is not an accident. They do a lot of work together off the field, making sure that they are crystal clear on the different scenarios that they are going to face in the game.

“They put a huge amount of work in and they work on their relationship. That’s an important aspect for lots of our sub-units in the team who are spending that time together.

“I think it definitely gives coaches a certain level of comfort, whether that’s here or with Ireland. I know they are two key guys from a leadership point of view in both camps as well.

“They have a ton of experience now as well, but they are still only really coming into their prime as players. Hopefully they will kick on together over the next couple of seasons and we will see lots of big performances from them.”


15. Hugo Keenan (37)
14. Jordan Larmour (68)
13. Garry Ringrose (93)
12. Robbie Henshaw (59)
11. Jimmy O’Brien (40)
10. Johnny Sexton CAPTAIN (177)
9. Luke McGrath (159)
1. Andrew Porter (84)
2. Rónan Kelleher (32)
3. Michael Ala’alatoa (8)
4. Ross Molony (124)
5. Josh Murphy (51)
6. Caelan Doris (46)
7. Josh van der Flier (105)
8. Jack Conan (109)

16. Dan Sheehan (20)
17. Cian Healy (240)
18. Vakh Abdaladze (15)
19. Ryan Baird (35)
20. Max Deegan (73)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (108)
22. Ross Byrne (113)
23. Ciarán Frawley (44)


15 Ruaridh McConnochie, 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 13 Max Clark, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Tom Prydie, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Arthur Cordwell, 2 Jacques du Toit, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Will Spencer, 5 Charlie Ewels ©, 6 Tom Ellis, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Josh Bayliss

Replacements: 16 Tom Doughty, 17 Will Vaughan, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Josh McNally, 20 Mike Williams, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Max Ojomoh, 23 Will Butt

Referee – Andrea Piardi (FIR)

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