By Graham Thomas
Josh Turnbull admits whichever back row trio Leinster throw at Cardiff on Saturday night, his team will be in for a testing evening.
The Cardiff skipper has been around long enough to recognise that when it comes to filling their slots at the back of the scrum, the Dublin-based province seem to have a supply chain as prolific as the city’s breweries.
Their likely trio to face Wales next week won’t be there as Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan are safely tucked up in the Ireland team hotel.
But that still leaves full internationals Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy, Will Connors and Max Deegan to choose from, as well as the younger thrusters Josh Murphy and Scott Penny, for when Leinster arrive for a URC clash that is live on S4C.
The three selected to start will be Ruddock, Connors and Penny with Deegan on the bench for a side that have lost just once – to Ulster – this season.
Like others in Welsh rugby, Turnbull points out that Leinster have healthy roots which provide their fruitful pickings.
“They have a very strong schools game over there and they are linked in to their academy system,” says Turnbull, who has been trying to deal with Leinster back row marauders since the days of British and Irish Lions stars Jamie Heaslip and Sean O‘Brien.
“If you have quality competitions at a younger age group level, it will breed competition among the players and you are only going to make them better.
Press the red button for English commentary. pic.twitter.com/fLS6Nc6Von
— Nick Heath (@nickheathsport) January 28, 2022
“Ultimately, at junior level, that is what you are striving for. Later on, you will then have an abundance of talented players coming through.”
Turnbull reckons the blend of youth and experience means that even when the Ireland coaches siphon off Leinster’s current best back rowers away from them, there is always plenty left in the tank.
“Caelan Doris and Max Deegan have recently made an impression on me, as did Scott Penny. He’s a very powerful youngster.
“Then, you have the older heads such as Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan. They compliment the youngsters who are coming through who just want to be involved with everything and rip into it.
“When you have youngsters who have been developed like that, they don’t have any fear for the game. They just want to go and play.”
But Turnbull says it’s not just about organisation and supply lines. You need cash to oil the whole system.
“You look at some of the best football teams. They can have two separate sides of equal quality. Only money brings you that and if you’ve got money you can go and spend it on the players you want.”
Saturday night’s Celtic warm-up ahead of Ireland v Wales on the opening weekend of the Six Nations is made more attractive to Cardiff fans who have been starved of home action.
This will be the first time supporters have been able to watch a home game since December 18 – and for many players like Turnbull, the first time they have run out in from of a crowd since the home match against the Dragons back on October 23.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) January 28, 2022
With injuries and Wales calls requiring a switch, Turnbull will start at second row, just as he did in Cardiff’s Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Harlequins.
“The Dragons game at home was the last time I played in front of a crowd. That’s a long time,” he says.
“All the boys are just really looking forward to getting out there in front of their friends and families and all the fans. We appreciate their support so much.”
Turnbull will captain Dai Young’s side alongside Rory Thornton in the second row, with James Botham returning at No.8, following a head injury suffered against Edinburgh three weeks ago.
Botham’s bid to deal with Leinster’s back row force will be assisted by Shane Lewis-Hughes and Will Boyde on the flanks.
Props Rhys Carré and Dillon Lewis, who have been released from the Wales squad, are both on the bench.
Young says: “It’s important to have the crowd back. That gives everyone the buzz and the excitement. When we have had crowds here this season they’ve been excellent and played a big part.
Crowds are back from today in Wales and we cannot wait to welcome @leinsterrugby .
Season Members ‘bring a friend’
North Terrace for just a tenner
3️⃣’s a crowd bundles also available.
— Cardiff Rugby (@Cardiff_Rugby) January 21, 2022
“Hopefully they’ll come out in their numbers and are nice and loud like they have been this season.
“We’ve got a part to play in that, doing the job on the field and giving them something to cheer about. That’s why we play rugby.”
Cardiff Rugby: Hallam Amos; Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Ben Thomas, Aled Summerhill; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Corey Domachowski, Kirby Myhill, Dmitri Arhip, Josh Turnbull (capt.), Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Will Boyde, James Botham
Replacements: Efan Daniel, Rhys Carré, Dillon Lewis, Teddy Williams, Sam Moore, Jamie Hill, Max Llewellyn, Garyn Smith
Leinster: J O’Brien; A Byrne, Osborne, Frawley, O’Loughlin; R Byrne, McGrath (capt); E Byrne, S Cronin, Ala’alatoa, Toner, J McCarthy, Ruddock, Connors, Penny.
Replacements: Tracy, Dooley, Abdaladze, Molony, Deegan, N McCarthy, H Byrne, T O’Brien.
S4C – Saturday, 7.30pm: Clwb Rygbi
Cardiff v Leinster
Live coverage from Cardiff Arms Park of the United Rugby Championship match between Cardiff and Leinster. English commentary available. Kick-off 7.35pm.