Leinster v Toulouse: Cullen calls for bench impact with Ryan, Conan and van der Flier among the replacements

Leinster opt for a 6-2 forward split on the bench, as Ciarán Frawley is preferred to Jimmy O’Brien

The memory of their quarter-final against La Rochelle, when they went with a 6-2 split on the bench, and finished the game strongly clearly compelled Leo Cullen, Jacques Nienaber and the Leinster thinktank to revert to that tried and trusted Springbok formula ahead of Saturday’s Champions Cup final.

By contrast, Leinster reverted to a 5-3 configuration in the semi-final against Northampton. But, having seemingly sought to play the clock when 20-10 ahead entering the last 13 minutes, they were hanging on grimly by the end.

At his eve of match press conference in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Cullen spoke of the need to ensure some fresh physicality in explaining why James Ryan, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan had all been named among the replacements, after restoring Hugo Keenan, Jason Jenkins and Will Connors to the starting XV.

Save for Keenan’s return, it’s the same team that started against La Rochelle, although compared to the bench that day Michael Milne, Ross Molony and Harry Byrne miss out as Cian Healy (seeking to become the first player to earn five winner’s medals) and Ryan return.


“From some of the experiences we’ve had, we need to make sure we’ve got that level of experience coming off the bench and James has been great in the way he’s gone about the week,” said Cullen.

“We need him there on the field to help us win the game at the end. The combination of Jason [Jenkins] and Joe [McCarthy], we’ve seen that before. Ross Molony in that instance is incredibly unlucky because he’s been brilliant for the team over the course of the season and in previous seasons as well.

“There’s been a few of those conversations this week with a few of those guys who are incredibly unlucky to miss out but we still think we’ve got a strong 23 there who will hopefully represent everybody well,” added Cullen.

“It’s amazing being here and we’re all very excited with the game tomorrow. We’ve had unbelievable support along the journey to get us here so a big thanks to everyone. All the work that goes on behind the scenes - we’re talking about the 23 players but there’s the rest of the playing squad that all contribute to getting us to this point.

“Then you’ve a backroom team who work their arses off all year to make sure the players are in good shape to deliver, hopefully. There were some tight calls in terms of the team piece but that’s the nature of the competitive squad we have.”

Another player unlucky to miss out is Jimmy O’Brien, who made his comeback off the bench in the semi-final and has since played twice, but misses out to the equally versatile Ciarán Frawley, as he can also cover outhalf.

As with Ryan, Cullen said that Josh van der Flier being asked to reprise his impact off the bench against La Rochelle “will be huge as well,”, adding: “He’s such a dynamic player, Josh. We’ve discussed different ways of getting impact off the bench and Will Connors has been excellent in a couple of games he has played and in the role he will deliver for the team. Hopefully we’ve got a good combination there. I think it is important that we have that freshness in these big games.

“Ciarán Frawley, because of his versatility he has played big game for us at 10, 12 and at 15 this season so he gives us a lot of comfort in that regard. Even Luck McGrath has featured on the wing for us previously and Josh van der Flier has featured on the wing for us, so it does give you plenty of comfort there.

“But because of the way the modern game is in terms of physicality that the forwards are involved in, having some of that freshness is important at the end for sure.”

Leinster: Keenan; Larmour, Henshaw, Osborne, Lowe; R Byrne, Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Furlong; McCarthy, Jenkins; Baird, Connors, Doris (capt).

Replacements: Kelleher, Healy, Ala’alatoa, Ryan, Van der Flier, Conan, McGrath, Frawley.

Toulouse: Kinghorn; Mallia, Costes, Ahki, Lebel; Ntamack, Dupont; Baille, Mauvaka, Aldegheri; Flament, Meafou; Cros, Willis, Roumat.

Replacements: Marchand, Neti, Merkler, Arnold, Brennan, Graou, Chocobares, Ramos.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times