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Cullen is hoping Leinster's big guns have major impact off bench

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Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen

�INPHO/Robbie Stephenson

Leo Cullen

Opening your tournament away to Montpellier is a difficult enough start for Leinster without the added conundrum of trying to integrate your internationals back into the set-up.

And Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster's solution is to pick a host of the players who featured most heavily for Andy Farrell's team on the bench in the hope that the men who have kept the PRO14 show on the road in their absence can keep in the hunt before they come on to win it.

It's an incredible list of names who begin the day in the stand.

The two men who captained Ireland during the last eight weeks of action, James Ryan and Johnny Sexton, are there, along with a front-row of Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter, rising star Ryan Baird, fit-again Dan Leavy and international scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park.

They can all change the course of a game, but Leinster will be hoping the team that starts can do a job.

Up front, props Peter Dooley and Michael Bent have a big task on their hands, but the experience of Scott Fardy and Devin Toner behind them will help.

Even without Leavy, the back-row of in-form Rhys Ruddock and Ireland pair Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris looks strong.

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Out the back, Ciaran Frawley's excellent form is rewarded with a start at inside centre, while Jimmy O'Brien has been brilliant at full-back. For both men, it's a big step up but there's plenty of experience around them.

Although they beat Clermont away last weekend, Montpellier are not as strong as they have been in previous seasons. They still have plenty of France international talent and if they can get on top in the scrum they'll cause Leinster problems.

A losing bonus point might not be a bad result.

Meanwhile, Munster will find out just how much progress they have made this season as Johann van Graan's men look to replicate their domestic form on the European stage tomorrow.

Van Graan has recalled all of his heavy hitters to take on Harlequins at Thomond Park, which will be denied what would have been a cracking atmosphere with an English team coming to town.

Even without a packed crowd, Munster should be confident of getting their Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start, especially if they have their sights set on the knockouts.

And Connacht are also in Sunday action with a daunting trip to Racing 92 in Paris.

Belfast Telegraph


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