Thursday 23 January 2020

Byrne and Baird look to impress in their first starts

Ryan Baird
Ryan Baird

Leinster are in the enviable position of having pocketed four wins from as many rounds and still having a point to prove.

The way their attack stalled at Zebre irritated their coach Leo Cullen because they created without finishing.

"It was the lowest scoring game I've ever been involved in, I think," he said.

"We felt a little fortunate to get out of there with four points."

The six-day turnaround, the travel back from Italy and the wish to reward application factored into the decisions to make multiple changes for the Dragons at the RDS this evening (KO 7.35, Eirsport 1).

That is partly why Harry Byrne and Ryan Baird have been handed their first starts for Leinster.

There is no sense of throwing them to the wolves - or the Dragons - as Baird, 20, will be able to lean on Devin Toner, captaining the Blues for just the second time on his 235th appearance.

"Ryan has featured well over the course of the pre-season," noted Cullen.

"He played at the U-20 World Cup and had some decent moments in the Cetlic Cup campaign as well."

The vastly experienced Toner will share something in common with Baird in that he has to win over a new coach in Andy Farrell.

"Dev' wants to be remembered for what he does next,

"He doesn't want to be remembered for missing out on the World Cup.

"He gets the chance to showcase what he is able to deliver. He's done a good job for us since he's come back.

Byrne will have the experienced Jamison Gibson-Park on the inside as the other 20-year-old takes charge. It is a natural aspiration for Byrne to challenge and even overtake his Ireland-capped older brother Ross.

"They're quite similar. Harry has had a role model in Ross in the last couple of years," said Gibson-Park.

"He has seen Ross's game go from strength to strength.

"There is no reason why he can't step into that position and dominate the game. He is certainly a confident young fella."

In the front row, Ronan Kelleher will start for the fourth time in five rounds in what looks a career move towards that Champions Cup in two weeks.

"It's always a balance, tricky in the specialist positions," said Cullen.

"You've got players coming though. I thought Ronan showed up well against Treviso and, then, you are like, 'do we chop and change things? Or do we give him a crack at it?

"He got a crack off it. JT (James Tracy) and Bryan have had plenty of chances over the last couple of seasons.

"You want to have a little bit of continuity in that position."

It should also be a special night for Jack Aungier as the tighthead is scheduled to debut off the bench for the Blues.

Meanwhile, Ian Nagle's Zebre will travel to Ulster (KO 7.35) to make up for an opportunity missed against Leinster.

With Rory Best out of the way, Rob Herring has to cement his position as club captain for Dan McFarland.

Full-back wing Rob Lyttle, centre Matt Faddes, out-half Bill Johnston,

Rob Herring and loose forward Nick Timoney complete the six changes.

LEINSTER (v Dragons): J O'Brien; D Kearney, R O'Loughlin, C O'Brien, J Lowe; H Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, R Kelleher, M Bent, D Toner (capt), R Baird, M Deegan, S Penny, C Doris. Replacements: J Tracy, M Milne, J Aungier, R Molony, W Connors; H O'Sullivan, C Frawley, C Kelleher.

DRAGONS: J Williams; O Jenkins, A Warren, C Edwards, A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams (capt); B Harris, R Hibbard, L Brown, J Davies, M Screech, H Keddie, O Griffiths, T Basham. Replacements: El Shipp, J Reynolds, L Fairbrother, M Williams, H Taylor; L Baldwin, A Robson, T Morgan.

Verdict: Leinster

ULSTER (v Zebre): W Addison, L Ludik, M Faddes, L Marshall, R Lyttle; B Johnston, D Shanahan; J McGrath, R Herring (capt), T O'Toole, A O'Connor, K Treadwell, M Rea, N Timoney, M Coetzee. Replacements: A McBurney, K McCall, R Kane, S Carter, S Reidy; J Cooney, A Curtis, C Gilroy.

Zebre: J Laloifi; C Walker, J Elliott, T Boni, M Bellini; C Canna, M Violi; D Fischetti, O Fabiani, G Zilocchi, I Nagle, G Biagi (capt), M Mbanda, G Licata, R Giammarioli. Replacements: L Bigi, D Rimpelli, E Bello, L Krumov, A Tauyavuca, G Palazzani, E Lucchin, J Renton.

Verdict: Ulster

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