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Blues' Cullen standing by decision to rest Sexton

 

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Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

Leo Cullen

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has defended his decision not to start Ireland captain Johnny Sexton in tonight's Guinness PRO14 final against Ulster.

The fly-half has been named on the bench for the game at the Aviva Stadium, with understudy Ross Byrne instead getting the nod in the run-on team, while Ireland's Luke McGrath is also rested at scrum-half as Jamison Gibson-Park gets the start.

With next weekend seeing Leinster welcome English powerhouses Saracens to Dublin for their European Champions Cup quarter-final, Cullen has opted to leave Sexton on the bench to manage his minutes.

Byrne is not a massive step down from Sexton anyway, given he is an Ireland international himself and was the man in the 10 jersey when Leinster defeated Ulster both in last season's Champions Cup quarter-final and a couple of weeks ago post-lockdown.

But Cullen felt the need to explain his selection process ahead of today's decider, arguing that he tried to balance his side.

"When you get to these knockout games, you're looking for a bit of freshness and a bit of continuity at the same time. That's what we've gone for," explained the former Leinster second row.

"There's a lot of guys not involved that can count themselves unlucky because there were a lot of really close calls. But we think we have a strong 23 that will hopefully represent the 53 (players) that managed to play through the course of the year.

"Ulster, you saw them against Edinburgh. We're planning for a strong 80-minute game from them, so we need to make sure we have that bit of punch coming off the bench as well."

Besides their half-back pairing, it is hard to argue that the defending champions haven't gone full strength in their bid to complete an unbeaten domestic season.

Like opposite number Iain Henderson, there's a return from injury long before scheduled for the hugely influential James Ryan, while full-back Jordan Larmour has completed his return to play protocols to be named in the starting team which will be captained for the first time by centre Garry Ringrose.

Leinster team to face Ulster: J Larmour; H Keenan, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; C Healy, R Kelleher, A Porter; D Toner, J Ryan; C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan.

Replacements: J Tracy, E Byrne, M Bent, S Fardy, W Connors, L McGrath, J Sexton, R O'Loughlin.

Belfast Telegraph