Saturday 23 February 2019

Cullen: Ringrose hugely important


Leinster centres Robbie Henshaw (left) and Garry Ringrose celebrate a victory over Wasps last season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Leinster centres Robbie Henshaw (left) and Garry Ringrose celebrate a victory over Wasps last season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The novel idea of two Conferences in the PRO14 League is beginning to wear thin, to say the least of it.

It is confusing to have to constantly compare and contrast the relative health of the provinces, Munster and Connacht in A and Leinster and Ulster in B.

There is also the fact that Conference A looks so uncompetitive, in terms of the remarkable 24-point spread from Glasgow in first to the Cheetahs in third.

For the coaches, they have to be primarily concerned with what is happening among their set of seven clubs.

"You think in our conference, we're competing against those teams," said Leo Cullen.

"We're playing against the other teams. But we're not necessarily competing against them, which is a different dynamic to what we're used to."

Leinster lag behind Conference B leaders Scarlets by two points, while they have six points to spare over Ulster in third.

"Scarlets are on top, so we're very conscious of what they're doing," added Cullen.

"Ulster and Scarlets, on either side of us, are the one we're most focused on, which is unusual.

"I'm not looking at the other conference. I wouldn't know what's going on over there."

This stands alone as the reason why Ulster is the most important inter-provincial rivalry of this season because it has a more direct impact on Leinster than either of Munster or Connacht, both in Conference A.

Cullen continues to reflect his confidence in his roster by making 13 changes this week, following on from the 12 on New Year's Day.

However, there is significance in the selection of two units, in second-row partners Devin Toner and Scott Fardy, now that James Ryan is out for rounds five and six of Europe, and centres Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose.

The return of Ringrose has led to steady rather than spectacular improvement.

The presence of Henshaw could well provide the defensive security on his inside shoulder to allow Ringrose to flourish.

"They've a very good understanding which they've built up over the last 18 months or so," said Cullen.

"Garry's getting there. I think it's good that he's getting another game.

"He is going to be hugely important to the team, we hope, in the future.

"But people forget how young he actually is because he had a massive first season.

"There are a lot of factors he has to deal with.

"He works hard on his game so I wouldn't have any worries about Garry."

Once again, loosehead prop Jack McGrath will lead the Blues, with medical student Josh Murphy making for an interesting choice at blindside.

"He's a bit of a slower burner, in terms of coming through," said Cullen of Murphy.

"He's just a real good worker. He's tough and physical.

He gives it all and he's very competitive."

He deserves his shot.

Leinster: J Larmour; F McFadden, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, B Daly; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath (capt), J Tracy, T Furlong, D Toner, S Fardy, Josh Murphy, Jordi Murphy, J Conan. Replacements: S Cronin, E Byrne, A Porter, M Kearney, M Deegan; N McCarthy, J Sexton, N Reid.

Ulster: C Piutau; A Trimble, D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Leali'ifano, J Stewart; C Black, R Best (capt), R Ah You, P Browne, I Henderson, M Rea, S Reidy, J Deysel. Replacements: R Herring, K McCall, W Herbst, A O'Connor, N Timoney, J Cooney, J McPhillips, T Bowe.

Verdict: Leinster.

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