Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Leinster's 2017/18 chances - preseason edition

Leinster preseason in full swing

We might still be waiting on confirmation for the amount of teams in next season’s Pro [Insert Number Here], or indeed how many league tables we’ll be following over the coming campaign, but for this post we can put the debate on that issue to one side because one thing is for sure no matter how the league is organised - Leinster will be involved and very much in contention.

It has been two long months since the disappointing end of our 2016/17 campaign, and with a large chunk of the squad enjoying mostly positive tours to the USA, Japan and New Zealand, there is plenty to look forward to.

So now that we’re not able to ponder over Lions selections anymore, it seems a good time to have a look at Leinster’s squad for the upcoming season to see what kind of matchday squads we can make out of it.

As a resource for the latest Leinster player pool you need look no further than the excellent Babbling Brook.  Here at Harpin Manor our focus is more on matchday writeups but if it’s hardcore in-depth opinion on matters Leinster (and beyond as well) you want, that’s your destination, and this thread started by site regular GoreyGuy is kept up to date extremely well.

So without any further ado let’s look at each position and see how things are stacked up.

Loosehead Prop
Cian Healy - Signed central 3yr contract in 2016
Jack McGrath - Signed central 3yr contract in 2016
Ed Byrne - Signed contract in 2017
Peter Dooley - Signed contract in 2016

Obviously it’s a straight contest between McGrath and Healy to be number one among the number ones (yes I hear the potty humour in that soundbite but I was hoping to ignore it) but as with most positions we must look beyond them and see who will be called on if required.  I reckon while Peter Dooley was always under the radar last season and looks set to continue there, his performances were top notch when required.  Assuming the new league season is going to start with the usual six- to seven-week burst of matches whatever the format, I’d look to start Dooley in most of them, with some game time for Ed Byrne as well as he has been unlucky with injury.

Richardt Strauss - Signed contract in 2017
Sean Cronin - Signed 3yr contract in 2015
James Tracy - Signed contract in 2016
Bryan Byrne - Signed contract in 2017
Sean McNulty - Academy

Already things are getting interesting when we get to the Leinster number two [I said stop with the innuendo! Not that ‘hooker’ is much better mind you…].  As you can see at the foot of the page I have selected what I consider to be an “ideal” matchday 23 for us, followed by what I call a “Rule them out at your peril” XV.  Who would have thought RIchardt Strauss could fall into that category?  I think James Tracy’s rise to the full Irish squad might have bumped him up our pecking order - plus the extra quality Strauss brings to our table is that he’s devilish around the breakdown and quite frankly we don’t need another back rower.  That said, I’d be tempted to award the jersey to anyone who can nail a lineout dart, especially in a key attacking situation.  I get the argument that it’s not “all about the hooker” on those set pieces, but since he’s responsible for starting the play the buck must start there.  Maybe they should be allowed to “shake off a call” the way baseball pitchers do with their catchers?

Tighthead Prop

Michael Bent - Signed contract in 2016
Tadhg Furlong - Signed contract in 2016
Andrew Porter - Signed contract in 2017
Oisin Heffernan - Academy
Jeremy Loughman - Academy

Most senior European clubs would love to have this selection of tightheads.  One Lions starter, one reliable backup also with international experience, one hot prospect and a couple of academy lads.   Strangely though, for Leinster, this is a weak selection, or at least as things stand right now.  Much like what I say about Dooley above, I think it’s vital that Andrew Porter gets some on pitch time in the early weeks of the new season.

Scott Fardy - Signed 2 yr contract in 2017
Devin Toner - Signed central 3yr contract in 2017
Ian Nagle - Signed contract in 2017
Mick Kearney - Signed contract in 2017
Ross Molony - Signed contract in 2016
James Ryan - Signed contract in 2017

Hayden Triggs ended up playing an extremely important role for Leinster, especially last season.  Despite our deep playing pool the coaching staff settled on him and Big Dev for the big matches and he didn’t let us down.  Now we have Scott Fardy as something of a straight replacement.  He may be switching from his more usual position of blindside flanker [something tells me though that even with our chock-a-block stocks in the back row we could well see Scott wearing 6 at least once] but for the time being I will put him in a starting role because if nothing else any team could do with a few fresh faces.  That’s not to say there’s no role for Messrs Molony, Kearney and Nagle in that order, but after a couple of impressive cameos for Ireland in Japan, we need to be seeing a lot of James Ryan in Leinster blue this coming season.  He has the look of someone going very far.

Jamie Heaslip - Signed central 3 yr contract in 2017
Sean O'Brien - Signed central 3 yr contract in 2016
Rhys Ruddock - Signed contract in 2016
Jordi Murphy - Signed contract in 2017
Jack Conan - Signed contract in 2017
Josh Van Der Flier - Signed contract in 2016
Dan Leavy - Signed contract in 2017
Peadar Timmins - Signed contract in 2017

Josh Murphy - Academy
David O'Connor - Academy
Will Connors - Academy
Max Deegan -Signed contract in 2017

Ah, the embarrassment of riches that is the Leinster backrow.  Just look at my backup XV below - you’d have no trouble starting them for Ireland [Ruddock was Irish skipper on summer tour] yet they can’t crack my top Leinster four!  I still stand by my choices though - IMO we need both O’Brien [yes, at 6. It might just be me but I prefer him there] and Heaslip for leadership and experience and we also need both Leavy and van der Flier for youthful vigour and ball-poaching ability.  Of course it doesn’t really matter what trio we put on the park, and with the likes of Timmins and Deegan waiting in the wings there will be a lot of people to keep happy over the coming months.  There’s a lot to be said for having a nailed down starting combination though, particularly in this area.  It’s a debate that will drag on for sure.

Jamie Gibson Park - Signed 3 yr contract in 2016
Luke McGrath - Signed contract in 2017
Nick McCarthy - Signed contract in 2017
Charlie Rock - Academy

The pecking order was unsure at the beginning of last season yet it is crystal clear now.  Luke starts.  Jamie needs to adapt to the Irish style and first and foremost among his skill set for improvement has to be box kicking.  He was doing it as though it went against his rugby DNA yet I don’t see it being taken out of the playbook any time soon, at least not when the likes of Joe Schmidt and Conor Murray are involved at test level.  He still has a key role to play for us however, and both Nick McCarthy and Charlie Rock look ready for more senior appearances this season as well.

Jonathan Sexton - Signed central 4 yr contract in 2015
Cathal Marsh - Signed contract in 2016
Ross Byrne - Signed contract in 2017
Joey Carbery - Signed contract in 2017

This time last season I would have said Cathal Marsh was Sexton’s primary back up.  Then Sir Graham Henry spent some time in our training camp and, well, I guess I’ll bow to his superior knowledge.  Joey Carbery went from playing for Clontarf in the AIL final in May, to lining out for Leinster in Navan for a preseason game in August, to helping Ireland beat the All Blacks in Chicago in November.  I will never grow tired of remembering that.  Of course that makes 2017/18 a potentially tricky ‘second album’ for him, but he has to be seen as the ‘go to’ guy once he’s fit in Johnny’s absence. Yes, I know he can play 15 as well, but going into this season I’d have him at outhalf first and foremost. Add this to Ross Byrne’s decent enough cameos last season and Marsh will need to fight his way out of fourth spot this season.

Noel Reid - Signed contract in 2017
Robbie Henshaw - Signed 3yr contract in 2016
Tom Daly - Signed contract in 2017
Garry Ringrose - Signed contract in 2016
Rory O'Loughlin - Signed contract in 2017
Conor O'Brien - Academy
Jimmy O'Brien - Academy

I see this area a bit like I do our tighthead prop scenario.  When fit, Henshaw and Ringrose are a nailed on pairing in blue or green, and some might say they’d have done ok in red a few weeks ago.  After them, however, things might seem a bit light.  Noel Reid is a decent option and could well get the most ProWhatever appearances for us at centre over the coming campaign.  Tom Daly looked to be improving as last season wore on.  We might find ourselves dipping into the back three player pool more than once this season to fill 12 and 13, but for me our key man is Rory O’Loughlin.  He can do good things on the wing I know, but I’d start him at outside centre every chance I had to get him used to the role.  For his sake that could run the risk of making him a “perfect number 23” though.

Back Three
Isa Nacewa - Signed 2yr contract in 2016
Rob Kearney - Signed central 3 yr contract in 2015
Fergus McFadden - Signed 3yr contract in 2015
Dave Kearney - Signed contract in 2016
James Lowe - Signed 3yr contract in 2017
Barry Daly - Signed contract in 2017
Adam Byrne - Signed contract in 2017
Hugo Keenan - Academy
Terry Kennedy - Academy
Jordan Larmour - Academy

Much like the back row, I have selected a “back up back three” that’s you’d have thought could be lining out for Ireland in the Six Nations.  But this is where we’re at right now.  James Lowe is still involved in the Super Rugby playoffs and much like Fardy represents a fresh face which is why he walks into my Leinster team for now.  On the other wing, Adam Byrne has some work to do on his game but the best thing to fix it while utilising his talent is actual game time.  And don’t think for a moment he’s the last decent prospect we have….the assembly line seems to be endless with Jordan Larmour in particular looking as though he could have a decent future ahead of him.

Right - that’s what I have to say on the Leinster squad as it stands right now.  We’ll see a bit more how they’re shaping up in the preseason matches to come.  

One thing I didn’t mention is the coaching staff.  It’s Leo’s third year in charge now, the performances may have dipped in the latter stages of last season but with a good team around him I’d expect them to put things right.

But whatever way you put together a matchday 23, and whatever way you set up the season that lies ahead, it’s hard to argue that Leinster must go into the new campaign among the favourites for silverware.  I have to say I’m as excited for a new season as I’ve ever been, though it wouldn’t hurt to see an actual list of fixtures some time soon!  JLP

2017/18 HarpinOnRugby Leinster Ideal Preseason Matchday 23
[assuming full fitness of course!]

15 Isa Nacewa 14 James Lowe 13 Garry Ringrose 12 Robbie Henshaw 11 Adam Byrne 10 Johnny Sexton 9 Luke McGrath
1 Jack McGrath 2 Sean Cronin 3 Tadhg Furlong 4 Scott Fardy 5 Devin Toner 6 Sean O’Brien 7 Dan Leavy 8 Jamie Heaslip
16 James Tracy 17 Cian Healy 18 Michael Bent 19 Ross Molony 20 Josh Van Der Flier 21 Jamison Gibson-Park 22 Joey Carbery 23 Rory O’Loughlin

The “Rule ‘em out at your peril” XV

15 Rob Kearney 14 Fergus McFadden 13 Tom Daly 12 Noel Reid 11 Dave Kearney 10 Ross Byrne 9 Nick McCarthy
1 Peter Dooley 2 Richardt Strauss 3 Andrew Porter 4 Mick Kearney 5 James Ryan 6 Rhys Ruddock 7 Jordi Murphy 8 Jack Conan

Update - Credit to Graham O'Hara on Facebook and @BHHooker on Twitter for assistance in updating some players' contract situations.


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019