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Reds' rising stars pushing the old guard: Rowntree

Champions Cup

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Graham Rowntree

Graham Rowntree

Graham Rowntree

The conundrum for Johann van Graan this week is how to blend the impressive youth who have kept the show on the road with his established, battle-hardened internationals who returned on Tuesday.

In previous times, they would walk straight into the set-up and into the Reds' starting XV, but with the team unbeaten in their absence and a short turnaround to Sunday's must-win Champions Cup opener against Harlequins, there are dilemmas.

Forwards coach Graham Rowntree said: "We've certainly had some of our longer selection meetings over the last few days because of the form of the young guys and particularly the young forwards.

"I'm not going to name-drop them all because it's not fair, so many of them have stepped up.

"I've been impressed with them and they've got on with things. They've done everything we've asked them to do, they're gaining experience, and they're gaining confidence, but this is a big step. We wouldn't pick them if we didn't feel they were ready."

In a strange quirk, this weekend's Thomond Park meeting pits Rowntree against his successor as Harlequins coach Paul Gustard and his predecessor at Munster Jerry Flannery, now scrum coach at the London club.

"Good club, got a bit of form recently, haven't they?" he said. "I like how they play, they play a particular style that can hurt you if you give them time and space. They have got players to do that.

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"I've not really considered the predecessor/successor thing, this is just a huge English club coming here in the first round of Europe, and I've said before how much Europe means to me and this club. At the moment, I'm worried about forward play and stopping them playing."

Craig Casey and Ben Healy look set to be involved this weekend, but perhaps the most interesting selection surrounds back-row Gavin Coombes, who has made the most of Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander's absence.

"He's doing everything we're asking and you can see in his performances he's gaining confidence in his skills, and he works hard on his game," Rowntree said. "He's still got a bit to go in terms of fitness. He knows that.

"He's developing, but like a lot of these young guys they're diligent and they're doing what we ask them to do. I can't speak highly enough of Gavin. He's a great example of a guy who's applied himself."

Belfast Telegraph


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