Saturday 19 January 2019

Cullen wary of turnover kings

Leinster v Scarlets, Live Sky Sports Action, KO3.15

Champion: Scarlets forward Tadhg Beirne with the Guinness PRO12 trophy last May
Champion: Scarlets forward Tadhg Beirne with the Guinness PRO12 trophy last May

Last season, Scarlets openside James Davies ended the then PRO12 League campaign with a record-breaking 33 turnovers.

This season, Tadhg Beirne is way out in front on 24, with Will Boyde, another low-centre-of-gravity loose forward, in fourth on 11 with six rounds left to play.

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has given Davies and Leinster academy graduate Beirne, on the blindside flank this afternoon, the licence to plunder Leinster's ruck ball with Boyde as back-up from the bench.

It is a triple threat that can turn over Leinster's best-laid plans unless they are dealt with aggressively and efficiently.


"It is just seeing the threat nice and early before they get into the space," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

"Once they get into the contact area, they are very strong to shift off the ball. They have caused us problems in the past.

"We just need to make sure we're very strong in that area because, if we do allow them into that space, they are very disruptive."

Cullen would have known that Davies, Beirne and Boyde were all likely to be involved. Therefore, it must be presumed that the Leinster combination of the Murphys, Jordi and Josh and Max Deegan are the best men available to cope at the ruck.

The Murphys' work-rate and ruck accuracy will be crucial in keeping Scarlets hands away from the ball. Once the phases begin to build, it will become a test of everyone's eagerness to move quickly and precisely into the breakdown.

Leinster field a potent back-three of Adam Byrne, James Lowe and Jordan Larmour.

The involvement of Lowe and Larmour will perhaps convince 'fair-weather' supporters that this might be one worth seeing.

Should Leinster secure and retain the ball in a smooth manner, half-backs Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne will not be slow in moving it into the space in which all three wide men thrive.

Should the game become a wide, expansive show, there will also be holes in and around the fringes for McGrath to skewer the Scarlets.

It has been encouraging to see how the scrum-half has found the balance between his natural breaking game and the service required for those outside.

The set-piece will be anchored by the sound scrummaging of Michael Bent and the lineout nous of Ross Molony on the end of Sean Cronin's darts.

As long as Leinster can get into a rhythm, the ball-playing of Ed Byrne and ball-carrying of Cronin in the front row allied to the all-round excellence of Wallaby second-row Scott Fardy can come into play.

The Scarlets got away to a fast start in Conference B and Leinster have steadily hauled them in to lead by the slim margin of points-difference.

This window without internationals is as damaging to the West Wales club as it is to Leinster.

It shines a spotlight on the strength in depth of both of them, especially with the return match slated for two weeks' time in Parc Y Scarlets.

Whoever came up with the scheduling to match the two best teams in the PRO14 during the Six Nations home and away and within two weeks has little regard for the marketing of the competition.

Leinster can make a decisive move over the next seven days, with the winless Southern Kings due in Dublin next Friday.

Of course, the Scarlets will view an away win as the first of two steps in putting Leinster in their place.

Leinster: J Larmour; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, N Reid, J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); E Byrne, S Cronin, M Bent, R Molony, S Fardy, Josh Murphy, Jordi Murphy, M Deegan. Reps: R Strauss, P Dooley, O Heffernan, I Nagle, W Connors; N McCarthy, C Frawley, B Daly.

Scarlets: J McNicholl; T Prydie, P Asquith, S Hughes (capt), I Nicholas; D Jones, J Evans; D Evans, R Elias, W Kruger, S Cummins, D Bulbring, T Beirne, J Davies, J MacLeod. Reps: E Phillips, P Price, S Gardiner, L Rawlins, W Boyde; D Smith, C Baldwin, T Williams.

Verdict: Leinster

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