Leo Cullen backs Leinster’s new look to seize opportunities against Zebre
Leinster v Zebre, RDS, Saturday, 1 p.m. – Live on RTÉ 2, Premier Sports 2
What Leinster may lack in cohesion as a result of Leo Cullen making 13 changes to his starting XV could be more than made up for by enthusiasm.
Of the 13 changes, 11 will make their first starts of the season, and in a scaled-down 18 game format, the opportunity strikes for Leinster’s opener at RDS with a large crowd since Ryan Baird’s hat-trick in the win against Glasgow in February. 2019.
“It’s the balance,” Cullen said Friday, noting the five-game cut through November.
“We always want to give the guys a chance in that first block. It’s exciting for some of these guys this weekend. A very frustrated group after last week’s performance against the Dragons. It’s good to win away but we probably didn’t handle the conditions very well. I think there is a little rain expected tomorrow so a little practice for us to play in the rain.
Adam Byrne returns for his first game in 22 months with hamstring and quad injuries while Dan Leavy, who came off the bench last week, makes only his fifth start since that horrific knee injury against the ‘Ulster in March 2019.
Devin Toner is entering his 17th campaign and it’s not as if the bench is likely to soften, given that he includes a seasonal start for Rónan Kelleher in his first game since scoring four tries for the Ireland 13 weeks ago against the United States. There is also a guy called Johnny Sexton.
Plus, with a squad entirely changed from last week, as they were competitive for the first half hour before the mistakes started to make the mistakes against Ulster worse, this is also a test of the zebra force in depth.
An inexperienced squad includes a 20-year-old debutant on the flanker of Italian Under-20 Six Nations captain Luca Andreani, one of four forwards to have played less than five games.
LEINSTER: Jimmy O’Brien; Adam Byrne, Jamie Osborne, Ciarán Frawley, Jordan Larmour; Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath (captain); Ed Byrne, Seán Cronin, Michael Ala’alatoa; Ryan Baird, Devin Toner; Dan Leavy, Scott Penny, Rhys Ruddock.
Substitutes: Rónan Kelleher, Peter Dooley, Cian Healy, Ross Molony, Max Deegan, Nick McCarthy, Johnny Sexton, Rob Russell
ZEBRA: Jacopo Trulla; Pierre Bruno, Erich Cronje, Enrico Lucchin, Mattia Bellini; Antonio Rizzi, Nicolo Casilio; Andrea Lovotti, Oliviero Fabiani (captain), Ion Neculai; Cristian Stoian, Andrea Zambonin; Iacopo Bianchi, Luca Andreani, Renato Giammarioli.
Substitutes: Massimo Ceciliani, Danilo Fischetti, Matteo Nocera, David Sisi, Giovanni Licata, Guglielmo Palazzani, Tommaso Boni, Paolo Pescetto
Arbitrator: Sam Grove-White (SRU).
Verdict: Leinster wins with a bonus point.