The Blues are without a host of first-choice stars for their clash with a resurgent Toulouse

Leo Cullen has 'full confidence' in depleted Leinster side

Leo Cullen has 'full confidence' in depleted Leinster side

Leo Cullen has 'full confidence' in depleted Leinster side

Leo Cullen has 'full confidence' in depleted Leinster side

Leo Cullen has 'full confidence' in depleted Leinster side
Leo Cullen has 'full confidence' in depleted Leinster side
  • 2019-01-11 15:25:07 5 days ago
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Leo Cullen insists he has "full confidence" in his understrength side as they prepare to face resurgent Toulouse at the RDS tomorrow.

The Blues are without first-choice stars Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy and Robbie Henshaw through injury, suspension rules out James Lowe while Jack McGrath has been dropped from the bench.

Without Toner and Leavy, the hosts' pack is still strong, with Scott Fardy partnering James Ryan in the second row and Rhys Ruddock captaining the side in the back row.

In terms of the backline, there are only two changes from the side that beat Bath at home in the last round in mid-December. 

But with Sexton, Kearney and Henshaw out, there's no doubt that there is a leadership deficit.

Leinster will have to do without Sexton, Kearney and Henshaw
 

Ross Byrne earns his fourth European star at out-half, Jordan Larmour is at full-back, Adam Byrne, Rory O'Loughlin and Dave Kearney are all included, while Conor O'Brien is named on the bench for the first time.

"I'm not someone who is worried about what I don't have," said head coach Cullen. 

"We have so much faith in the players and the experience and depth we've built over the past few seasons. It's important, we want to have that competition and it's very, very strong across the squad.

"It doesn't particularly worry me. I think we've got a good group, there's a lot of experience there and if you look at the 1-15, they're all internationals. 

"There's 20 of the 23 that have come through the Leinster academy system and they've got to get the experience at some stage. 

"There's no magic fix to get guys to 100 caps - you've got to get picked 100 times. Guys are maturing all the time and there's a ton of experience in our team and in our squad. 

"We've full confidence in the guys who are going to represent the group in what is a massive game for the club."

For Dave Kearney, it's his first start for the province in Europe since they faced Wasps in January 2016. Since then the winger has only played 36 minutes in the competition, off the bench against Edinburgh last term.

Rob Kearney picked up a low grade quad injury "at some stage", said Cullen, who explained that the experienced Ireland no 15 started to flag in training on Tuesday. 

He will be futher assessed this weekend, and into next, making him a doubt for Wasps.

Sexton (knee) and Toner (ankle) are said to be "progressing well" so could return for the final pool fixture, but if not Sexton will be back for the Six Nations opener against England on February 2. 

"Johnny's making good progress so he should be OK by then," said Cullen.

And Sean O'Brien? The Tullow Tank is due back to training in a couple of weeks, but will he be involved in the Six Nations shake-up?

"I think so, yeah," Cullen commented. "But we have to be careful with this crystal ball I have here."

Dan Leavy suffered a calf problem in training, ruling him out of tomorrow's showdown against the Pool A leaders, while Robbie Henshaw should return next week after resuming training following a hamstring injury.

"It's early days for Robbie, but good to get some (training) volume under his belt," said Cullen.

"We'll see how they all come through in terms of next week." Ireland prop Jack McGrath, who made his return against Ulster, has lost out in the selection battle for bench time with the in-form Ed Byrne. 

McGrath hadn't played since October until last week, while Byrne had come off the bench in both games against Bath.

Rhys Ruddock at a Leinster Rugby Press Conference
 

Skipper Ruddock said: "From the experience of playing them over there, they really got a handle on us physically. 

"So it's just to get a handle on that and make sure we're the ones who are on the front foot.

"If we're serious about doing what we want to do in this competition, we have to put everything into getting ahead in this pool."

And Cullen added: "Toulouse are the team when I was coming out of school, when the European Cup was starting. 

"They were the team ahead of everyone else because they're such a massive club and so heavily resourced. 

"They've always had that sprinkling of foreign stars but it's also based on their home-grown talent, which we would have learned a huge amount from over the years.

"It's an unbelievably exciting match-up. A team that we have so much respect for.  "For us, we have been very fixated on this game for a while. 

"I know we've had three big inter-pros over the course of the Christmas period but this is the one that is, not at the back of our mind, because it's closer to the front of our minds. 

"It's an unbelievable challenge. We've got full confidence in them and we're excited about them and what they can deliver on the day tomorrow. It's a great challenge". 

LEINSTER: J Larmour, A Byrne, G Ringrose, R O'Loughlin, D Kearney, R Byrne, L McGrath; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, S Fardy, J Ryan, R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan.

TOULOUSE: M Medard, C Kolbe, S Guitoune, R Ntamack, Y Huget, T Ramos, A Dupont; C Castets, J Marchand, C Faumuina, R Arnold, J Tekori, F Cros, R Elstadt, J Kaino.

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Leo Cullen has 'full confidence' in depleted Leinster side

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