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Saturday 25 January 2020

Cullen backs Byrne

Leinster boss has faith in out-half to fill in for Sexton against Saints

Ross Byrne limbering up at the Aviva Stadium yesterday ahead of this evening’s Champions Cup clash against Northampton. Photo: Sportsfile
Ross Byrne limbering up at the Aviva Stadium yesterday ahead of this evening’s Champions Cup clash against Northampton. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster may be without their talismanic captain Johnny Sexton for this evening's Heineken Champions Cup clash against Northampton, but Leo Cullen has a ready-made replacement to call upon in Ross Byrne.

The 24-year-old has expertly steered the ship over the last couple of seasons whenever Sexton has been absent, and he has been backed to do so again as Leinster look to take another giant step towards securing a place in the knockout stages.

Byrne has shown great resilience to overcome the disappointment of being overlooked for Ireland's World Cup squad, with Cullen lauding the manner in which he has bounced back.

The former St Michael's College man will be expected to guide Leinster to victory over a Saints side who make eight changes for the trip to the Aviva Stadium.

Leinster ruthlessly dismantled the Premiership leaders in their own back yard last weekend and with Byrne having played his part in that impressive win, Cullen has called on him to do so again.

"That's the thing, the layers of experience that Ross has picked up over the last three or four years has been fantastic, and he's waiting for these opportunities every time he gets them," Cullen said.

Presence

"I thought he led the team well when we were away in Glasgow a few weeks ago, in terms of his on-field leadership, and even when he stepped into the team last weekend, whatever it is, 42 or 43 minutes, he's a very commanding presence in the group.

"He has a very clean understanding, obviously missing out on World Cup selection, he comes back to us a little bit earlier, so he's been great for us so far this year."

Byrne hasn't been the only one who has had to put his World Cup snub behind him, as like the out-half, Devin Toner and Dave Kearney have also responded well.

Both players are again included in Leinster's starting XV as Cullen makes five changes from last week

"Across the board, Dev as an example, has come back and has been exceptional for us," the Leinster boss maintained.

"Dave Kearney missed out as well. Dave is flying at the moment as well. Those three in particular.

"The competition is good. You can see the way the game is now, there are injuries all the time. You can't roll out the same team. The game is physical and you want to be able to prepare properly for the games.

"Dev is an example, a big shift away to Glasgow on a rock-hard field and then into Northampton. Again, it's just freshening guys up and how we think the game is going to go sometimes as well. The competition is good."

Northampton caused Leinster plenty of problems in the first-half last weekend before Cullen's men pulled away in ruthless fashion.

They will put their 100pc winning record on the line tonight and although Saints may pose a few tricky questions, another big victory beckons for a Leinster side with their sights firmly set on adding a fifth star to their jersey.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster: J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath; C Healy, J Tracy, T Furlong; S Fardy (capt), J Ryan; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, C Doris. Reps: B Byrne, E Byrne, A Porter, D Toner, M Deegan, J Gibson-Park, C Frawley, R Kearney.

Northampton Saints: A Tuala; O Sleightholme, M Proctor, A Symons, T Naiyaravoro, D Biggar, C Tupai; F van Wyk, M van Vuuren, P Hill; A Ratuniyarawa, A Coles; T Wood (c), J Gibson, L Ludlam. Reps: S Matavesi, A Waller, E Painter, L Bean, JJ Tonks, J Mitchell, J Graysom. F Dingwall.

REF: D Jones (Wales).

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