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Fringe benefits for Ireland hopefuls as Leinster return to URC action in Cardiff

Tonight in Cardiff, Leinster’s fringe Ireland contingent can tell Andy Farrell they are available if needed.

At the Arms Park (7.35pm), academy lock Joe McCarthy makes his debut alongside Devin Toner, who makes his record-breaking 272nd appearance.

Among those starting or benching are skipper Luke McGrath, Ciarán Frawley, Will Connors, Ross and Harry Byrne, Rhys Ruddock, and Ross Molony.

“Andy Farrell’s message is the same as mine, play rugby and put your hand up,” Lancaster added.

“Will Connors is one. He’s only played 20 minutes of rugby (against Ulster in November).” He’s definitely disappointed not to be involved (with Ireland), but his last game was probably Scotland.” It was a surprise for him. Harry hasn’t been playing, he’s had a few injuries, so they all know they should be playing rugby for Leinster.

“There’s nothing worse than pondering and having nowhere to vent.”

Luke McGrath would be. Rhys Ruddock, Ross Molony, and the list goes on.

“Our message is ‘let’s prepare for Cardiff’.”

Lancaster adores Crawley, a 23-year-old scrum-half who can also play centre or full-back. In tonight’s match, Naas’ Jamie Osborne makes his 11th appearance for the province.

“I think he’s really versatile,” remarked Frawley’s former England coach.

“We’re privileged at Leinster with three excellent out-halves, so being able to play him at 12 is a huge plus. And, as you saw, the ability to bring him on at 15.

“It’s great to know he can play 10, 12, and 15. But I think it’s good for him to stick to one thing, to be in the ball-playing 12, but also carry and do everything else.

“I think he’s improved recently. It’ll be excellent this week because he may start at 12.

“Obviously he’s sad, as are all the lads who missed out on the Ireland squad, but we’ve got Cardiff on Saturday, Frawls, and Jamie Osborne.”

So we can still put out a decent backline and look at someone like Jamie, giving Frawls another chance to manage a team with less experience, as 16/17 Ireland boys have left.

“I think he’s doing great. I know the Ireland coaching staff admire him. It’s merely for him to gain experience now.

“The Christmas cancellations have benefited this group of players because we’ll now play more games in the Six Nations window than originally planned.

“We’ll have five or six games left until the Six Nations ends. And, as you know, one injury might see him called up.”