With most of Ireland’s front-liners being wrapped in cotton wool this weekend ahead of the return to Champions Cup action, those on the fringes will be out to stake their claim, not only for European involvement, but also for the Six Nations.
ordan Larmour fits into that category, and after the winger delivered a timely reminder of his undoubted quality during last weekend’s win over Connacht, he gets a chance to further build on his impressive form in Leinster’s trip to Swansea to take on the Ospreys this evening.
That Larmour is part of what is otherwise Leinster’s first-choice back-three, along with Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien, will boost his hopes of making a big impression for next week’s trip to Gloucester and beyond.
With James Lowe set to come back into the team and considering Keenan is nailed on at full-back, Larmour is in a battle with O’Brien for game-time.
Larmour’s devastating footwork wreaked havoc on the Connacht defence, which won’t have gone unnoticed by Farrell, who is a fan of the threat that the 25-year-old offers.
Leinster will put their unbeaten season on the line here, but barring a major upset, it’s difficult to see Leo Cullen’s men not racking up a 14th consecutive win.
The Ospreys, who include Wales internationals Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric in their side, will have something to say about that, particularly at home. Yet with Cullen calling on several of his key men, Leinster will be confident of having too much quality.
Even without most of his heavyweights, Cullen is still able to name a formidable pack that looks to have too much power for the Ospreys.
Dan Sheehan is something of a surprise starter given the considerable number of minutes he has played this season, and with Cian Healy switching back to loosehead to allow Michael Ala’alatoa to start at tighthead, Leinster will go after the Ospreys front-row.
Wexford lock Brian Deeny (22) faces a big test as he goes up against Jones, but Cullen has surrounded him with plenty of experience, in what has become a hallmark of how the Leinster boss bloods young players.
That tried and tested formula has stood to the province over the years, and with Ross Molony partnering Deeny in the second-row, he will be further assisted by veteran Rhys Ruddock, who captains the side from blindside.
With Ryan Baird piling the pressure on for his starting spot in the back-row, Jack Conan could do with a big performance ahead of a crucial period for club and country.
It’s been a frustrating season thus far for Conan, yet it’s worth remembering that not that long ago, he was the starting Lions No 8.
Plenty of focus will also be on Harry Byrne, who makes his first start of the season. Byrne has been battling against his body for the last while, and although he may have become the forgotten man in some circles, at 23, time is very much on his side as he looks to reignite his career.
As Johnny Sexton gets set to miss Leinster’s upcoming games, Byrne will likely be pressed into action as cover for his older brother Ross, who is named on the bench tonight.
Mindful that Ross, Jack Crowley and Ciarán Frawley have overtaken him in the Ireland pecking order during his spell out injured, Harry Byrne will look to deliver an assured display that ensures he remains in the conversation.
The Six Nations may come too soon in that regard, but that said, Sexton’s setback serves as a timely reminder of how the picture can quickly change for every player, particularly with back-to-back European games to negotiate before the focus turns to Ireland .
If things aren’t going to plan in Wales, Cullen will be comforted by having Josh van der Flier and James Ryan on the bench.
It shouldn’t come to that, however, because if the Leinster pack set the platform for Harry Byrne to pull the strings and get the likes of Larmour involved, then they should return to Dublin with their 100pc winning record still intact.
Ospreys – C Evans; M Protheroe, M Collins, K Williams, K Giles; O Williams, R Morgan-Williams; N Smith, D Lake, T Francis; R Davies, A Wyn Jones; E Roots, J Tipuric (capt), M Morris. Reps: S Baldwin, G Thomas, T Botha, H Sutton, H Deaves, M Aubrey, J Hawkins, J Walsh.
Leinster–H Keenan; J Larmour, J Osborne, C Ngatai, J O’Brien; H Byrne, C Foley; C Healy, D Sheehan, M Ala’alatoa; R Molony, B Deeny; R Ruddock (capt), S Penny, J Conan. Reps: J McKee, M Milne, V Abdaladze, J Ryan, J van der Flier, N McCarthy, R Byrne, R Russell.
REF – A Piardi (Italy)
Ospreys v Leinster
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