THE LIKELIHOOD WAS that Leo Cullen would opt for an unchanged team for tomorrow’s Heineken Champions Cup final and so it has proved the case.
Confirmation came this afternoon that the Leinster boss had resisted any temptation to bring the fit-again Rhys Ruddock back into his XV for the clash with Saracens in Newcastle, with Scott Fardy retained at blindside flanker after his superb semi-final display versus Toulouse.
Robbie Henshaw and Devin Toner at St James’ Park. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Ruddock is back in the matchday squad as back-row cover on the bench, where the two most interesting selections have been made.
Jack McGrath is reinstated to the reserve loosehead prop slot after Ed Byrne had pushed ahead of him in recent rounds, while Michael Bent sees off the competition of Andrew Porter as the replacement tighthead.
“Selection has been tough over the course of the year, in a good way I think,” said Cullen this afternoon after his team’s captain’s run at St James’ Park.
“There’s a couple of guys who had to get some bad news this week. Even though the 15 is the same, there were a couple of tweaks along the way and a couple of changes on the bench as well.
“Selection decisions certainly weren’t taken lightly. This 15 did a good job in the semi-final. There’s always a temptation as coaches to tweak that but we’re going with the same team.”
Speaking about the return of Ireland and Lions loosehead McGrath – who will join Ulster this summer – to the matchday 23, Cullen indicated that his proven ability on previous big occasions edged him ahead of Byrne.
“With a team like Saracens, with a very strong set-piece, Jack has a lot of experience playing at the highest level and in terms of the way we think the game will unfold, his strengths suit this challenge,” said Cullen.
Michael Bent [centre] is on the bench for Leinster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO
As for the absence of Ireland international Porter, Cullen indicated that it was as much about the good form of 33-year-old Bent as it was about Porter having only recently returned from a pectoral injury.
“Andrew Porter’s a little bit unlucky, he picked up the injury and hasn’t really featured the last few weeks,” said Cullen. “He has trained fully this week and was available but it was just a little bit too tight with him.
“Michael Bent, he’s been so important to us over the course of the season. You think back to some of the games when we’re down 15, 20 players and he’s come up with five scrum penalties. He’s been hugely important to the success of the group over the course of the season.”
Leinster have named hooker Sean Cronin to start after his recovery from the calf injury he suffered in the semi-final win over Toulouse, although Cullen indicated that there was an element of risk in selecting him.
“We’ll soon find out, yeah,” said Cullen when asked if Cronin is fully fit. “When a guy picks up an injury in the semi-final, his calf, we knew it was going to be a little bit tight with Sean but he’s trained ok this week and hopefully he’s good to go.
“You never have 100% certainty but for a final, you take a little bit of a chance. But he’s trained this week so, hopefully, he comes through ok.”
Gavan Casey, Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman tee up Saturday’s Champions Cup final and look at the backroom problems in Munster:
Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud
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