Friday 22 February 2019

Cullen turns to Larmour with Gibson-Park named on bench

BURNING IT UP: Jordan Larmour starts on the right wing. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
BURNING IT UP: Jordan Larmour starts on the right wing. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Forget all you have heard and read about the riches and resources of French giants Racing 92.

They counted for next-to-nothing when the French club released their 23-man squad from Bilbao at noon yesterday.

In alphabetical order, the French club will not have Samoa's prop Viliamu Afatia, Argentina's second rows Patricio Albacete and Manuel Carizza, France's number eight Antonie Classen, prop Luc Ducalcon, full-back Bruce Dulin, Argentinian wing Juan Imhoff, France's scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and out-half Remi Tales, All Black centre Anthony Tuitavake or Fiji wing Albert Vulivuli.

This is a 12-man list of internationals unavailable with captain Machenaud, their driving force, out injured and Imhoff unable to even make the bench for the showpiece occasion.

The backline contains two uncapped players in scrum-half Teddy Iribaren, 27, and full-back Louis Dipuchot, 22, who will be augmented by Pat Lambie at out-half, the workhorse Henry Chavancy, game breakers in Virimi Vakatawa, Teddy Thomas and Marc Andreu, Dan Carter with Joe Rokocoko kept in reserve.

The heavies up front make for formidable foes with locks Donnacha Ryan and Leone Nakarawa the best line of the three.

It sounds as though Leinster will have everything all their own way.

Not so fast, this Racing first fifteen is just one short of the lot that took Munster to the cleaners in the semi-final.

They bring an overpowering presence in the first quarter, one of their main tactics appearing to be building up a lead and holding on.


Leinster will have to match muscle with muscle and they are well equipped to do so, with an array of ball carriers and technical tackle masters like Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan.

The speculation flagged in midweek that there was a surprise in selection coming from Leinster was validated.

Twenty-year-old Jordan Larmour will line out on the right wing, despite earning the first cap for his province only last September in a meteoric rise.

"Jordan has really been incredible all year," said coach Leo Cullen, at the Captain's Run press conference in Bilbao.

"He has a lot of experience around him with Isa (Nacewa) on the other wing and Rob (Kearney) behind and Garry (Ringrose) and Rob (Henshaw) have a strong relationship as well."

In fact, this looks like the perfect match-up, size-wise for Larmour against the diminutive figure of Andreu, who can be a total nightmare in attack.

This leaves captain Nacewa and the covering Kearney to look after Teddy Thomas with Ringrose to marshal Virimi Vakatawa while Henshaw gives support on his inside shoulder.

In fact, it is Leinster who will trot out 22 internationals this evening, Jamison Gibson-Park the exception to the rule.

Coaches Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have seen fit to go for scrum-half Luke McGrath ahead of James Lowe.

"I thought Jamison did very well in the semi-final against Scarlets," said Cullen. "In many ways, he's unlucky not to start this game."

The demise of Fergus McFadden cleared the path for Larmour to be included on the presumption he has been burning it up in training last week and this.

Overall, Leinster have the power and the discipline to claim their fourth European crown.

If they are as good as they were in the quarter-final and semi-final, they can win with something to spare. In other words, it could be a two-score game.

Leinster: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, J Ryan, D Toner, S Fardy, D Leavy, J Murphy. Replacements: J Tracy, J McGrath, A Porter, R Ruddock, J Conan; J Gibson-Park, J Carbery, R O'Loughlin.

Racing: L Dupichot; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy, M Andreu; P Lambie, T Iribaren; E Ben Arous, C Chat, C Gomez-Sa, D Ryan, L Nakarawa, W Lauret, B le Roux, Y Nyanga (capt). Replacements: O Avei, V Kakovin, C Johnston, B Palu, B Chouzenoux; A Gibert, D Carter, J Rokocoko.

Verdict: Leinster

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