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Young talent still emerging but Racing visit a reminder of what Leinster are losing

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Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster.

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Young talent still emerging but Racing visit a reminder of what Leinster are losing

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster will join the French side in the summer.

ANYONE HEADING TO Aviva Stadium this afternoon for Leinster’s Champions Cup meeting with Racing [KO 3.15pm, RTÉ 2/BT Sport] will be doing well not to think about what the future may hold for both of these European powerhouses.

Regardless of today’s outcome, change is coming in both camps and it will be fascinating to watch how it all unfolds in the coming years.

At the centre of the impending shift is Stuart Lancaster, the former England head coach who, working alongside Leo Cullen, has transformed Leinster since joining the province in 2016. Today’s he’ll be wearing his Leinster colours but next season will have a Racing crest on his tracksuit, with Lancaster joining the French giants at the end of the season.

It’s a huge appointment for Racing and one that leaves a major void at Leinster. The province will have no shortage of candidates to step into that senior coach position – with Andrew Goodman already making a strong impression in his first season as attack coach – but Cullen has always been quick to acknowledge how transformative Lancaster’s appointment has been for the province .

The season before Lancaster landed in Dublin – Cullen’s first as head coach – Leinster were beaten in the Pro12 final by Connacht and finished bottom of their pool in Europe.

“When Stuart came in, we were struggling probably here, some of the Irish teams and all of the URC teams, really,” Cullen explains.

leo-cullen

Tom Maher / INPHO
Leo Cullen speaking to the media yesterday.


Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

“If you think Toulon and Saracens were the very dominant teams in Europe, both heavily resourced but Saracens in particular, defensively what they were doing was probably the biggest thing.

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“As someone who was playing at that time to the end of my career and you want to transfer into coaching, we really didn’t have the level of attention here at any stage with our previous coaches with our defensive system.

“So growing that understanding was probably the biggest attraction (of bringing in Lancaster) at the start amongst many other things, but from a defensive system point of view, what Sarries were doing, they were so bloody hard to play against, they were strangling the life out of teams and you saw the impact that Andy Farrell had with Ireland as well.

“Stuart and Andy had worked together as well closely with England, so there was a lot of attraction in that relationship as well.

But we were behind in terms of a defensive system at the time and yeah, that’s just the evolution of the game, modern day defences and on the flip side of that, it’s how do you break down a modern day defensive system, understanding the different teams and what type of systems they actually have, how you try to exploit that.”

From three Champions Cup outings this year, Leinster have scored 22 tries and conceded just three. Lancaster’s influence is clear across all aspects of their game and just as importantly, he’s been a hugely popular figure with the players on a personal level.

Leinster’s loss will be Racing’s gain and with Lancaster on board, the French side are primed to remain mainstays of the Champions Cup knockout stages as the three-time runners up continue their hunt for a first European trophy.

They arrive in Dublin today well in the mix for this year’s knockouts, with five points from their opening three games. 

Leinster opened their Champions Cup account with a 42-10 win over the Parisians at Le Havre back in December but with a place in the knockouts on the line, they expect a much sterner challenge today.

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And while the French side may feel they have tempted arguably Leinster’s strongest asset away from the province, one look at the Leinster teamsheet is a reminder that their famed production line continues to push forward exciting young talent.

Jamie Osborne and Joe McCarthy are two players who not only look set for promising futures in blue jerseys, but also bigger things in green ones.

joe-mccarthy

Dan Sheridan / INPHO
Joe McCarthy makes his first Champions Cup start today.


Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Starting in the Leinster midfield, Osborne lines out alongside Garry Ringrose for the second week running. The 21-year-old earns his second Champions Cup start two days after being named in Andy Farrell’s squad for the upcoming Six Nations, and a week on from lighting it up against Gloucester.

Skillful, fast and hugely physical, the versatile Naas man is highly rated by Leinster and has all the ingredients needed to be a dominant, elite centre. 

For McCarthy, also 21, today is his first start in the competition. In some ways it feels a long time coming, but it’s also been a rapid rise through the ranks. The powerful lock has already been capped by Ireland but this time last year had to make a senior appearance for Leinster.

“He’s good Joe, he brings a lot of power to the team,” Cullen adds.

Set piece power, but just in terms of his carry, his clean out, his stopping power in the tackle as well. He’s a young player. Young players when they come into the team, it’s not going to be perfect for them.

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“He’s had a great rise in the game quite quickly, Joe. He’s another one in terms of his attitude is excellent. He just goes about his work and he’s very, very diligent in everything he does.”

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Farrell’s latest Ireland squad includes 20 Leinster players – 14 of which start for the province today – but one notable absentee was Robbie Henshaw.

The centre has been sidelined with a wrist injury since November but Cullen says he could return in time for the latter stages of the Six Nations.

“He was pretty touch and go. He probably just hasn’t done enough yet but he’ll join up with them at some stage is my understanding. What exact week that is, we’ll wait and see but he’s not a million miles away. It’s a bit vague that, obviously it won’t be for the first (Six Nations) game but I think it will be pretty close after that.”

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose (captain), Jamie Osborne, Jimmy O’Brien; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, Michael Ala’alatoa; Joe McCarthy, James Ryan; Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

ReplacementsDan Sheehan, Michael Milne, Cian Healy, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Luke McGrath, Harry Byrne, Scott Penny.

RACING: Warrick Gelant; Christian Wade, Olivier Klemenczak, Gael Fickou (captain), Louis Dupichot; Finn Russell, Nolann Le Garrec; Eddy Ben Arous, Janick Tarrit, Trevor Nyakane; Baptiste Chouzenoux, Boris Palu; Wenceslas Lauret, Mahamadou Coulibaly, Kitione Kamikamica.

Replacements: Péniami Narisia, Guram Gogichashvili, Gia Kharaishvili, Anthime Hemery, Maxime Baudonne, Antoine Gibert, Francis Saili, Max Spring. 

Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)

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