Leinster are set to wrap their front row players in cotton for Saturday’s URC clash against Munster at the Aviva Stadium.
With the top spot already secured, and with the Heineken Champions Cup final against Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle coming up the following week, Leo Cullen will rotate his squad accordingly.
La Rochelle, currently seventh in the Top 14 table, play a huge home game against Stade Français on Saturday.
Leinster face an anxious wait to determine the extent of Tadhg Furlong’s ankle problem, and with Rónan Kelleher entering return-to-play protocols and James Lowe nursing a leg injury following their 40-17 win over Toulouse, Cullen has some concerns leading up to the European decider in Marseille.
Furlong, Kelleher or Lowe were never going to feature in Munster’s game as Leinster’s fringe players will have a chance to claim their place in the Champions Cup final.
Although Leinster are already guaranteed to finish top of the URC table, this is a huge game for Munster in their quest for a home quarter-final and, possibly, a semi-final.
Cullen hopes the new faces he enlists this weekend can keep up the momentum leading up to their trip to France.
“We have a big game here next week against Munster: back to URC everyone! Cullen said.
“We want to put on a great performance here next week. There are different layers in the group. You’ve got guys like Johnny (Sexton) who’s had a lot of positive memories and a few tricky memories along the way, like all of us, and then there’s a younger bunch who are striving for success for the first time.
“We will have players who are desperate to raise their hands, that’s what we want to see from them.
“So that’s probably the thing that’s on most of my mind right now is getting ready for a (Munster) side that we know are very ambitious and will also be very successful. They came out publicly and said their desperation for the trophies and I guess they invested, in terms of integrating World Cup winners into their squad.
“So that’s probably the biggest thing in my head at the minute because that’s how our minds go, which is the next challenge.
“Then it just gets exciting. I hope there will be a few planes and that we will have a sea of blue in Marseille because it would be incredible. Last week the support at Welford Road was incredible, the 4,000 people who made the trip there.
“We won a final in Bilbao, I know it’s not France, it’s Spain, but there was an incredible sea of blue. It’s one of my most vivid memories, entering the stadium literally in a sea of blue covering the tunnel.
“It’s the special moments you get, I guess the honor of representing this team. We’ll have a group of players who can race here next week and hopefully we’ll have a strong turnout again and then we’ll shoot the page to Marseilles.
“We know we have a quarter-final the following week in the URC, so it’s an incredibly exciting period of games, isn’t it,” Cullen added.
“The group has been handled pretty well so we should be fresh and looking forward to leaving. We’ve had a few knocks and knocks, hope none of them come to a standstill, but the next challenge begins now to be excited. It’s not Marseille, it’s back to school at the Aviva on Saturday.