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26th Dec 2014

O’Driscoll’s farewell and O’Connor under pressure – it’s SportsJOE’s Leinster Rugby awards 2014

All the best from the boys in mostly blue

Patrick McCarry

The best bet for European glory and seeking a third league win in a row but discontent still bubbles across the province

Matt O’Connor finds himself under pressure at Leinster and not for the first time in his 18-month tenure. The Blues are, more often than not, grinding out wins and should welcome back Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien in the New Year. They should reach the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup by, primarily, defeating Wasps away.

Leinster’s style of play has been wretched at times. RDS flakings of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Scarlets have boosted the try-scoring stats but the league champions have looked flat in big games. Captain Jamie Heaslip says Leinster are less “robotic” than under former coach Joe Schmidt but many supporters are harking back to those halcyon days (2010-2013) already.

Player: Sean Cronin

LeinsterÕs Sean Cronin 19/10/2014

We are taking all of 2014 into account and the hooker has been tremendous all year. He ended last season in top form having lost out on a starting role away to Toulon in Europe. Was crucial to his team’s cause in the Guinness PRO12 semi and final. Came back from shoulder surgery, over the summer, stronger than ever. First choice for O’Connor now. Improved line-out throwing and a menacing strike-runner.

Breakthrough player: Jack Conan

The Belvedere man was drafted into the senior squad during the Six Nations window and scored a try on debut, in Cardiff.

22-year-old Conan has become a vital component in the back row, has covered well for both O’Brien and Jordi Murphy, and has an eye for the whitewash. Well thought of within Leinster HQ.

Most improved: Dominic Ryan

Dominic Ryan with George Lowe 13/12/2014

After a tremendous breakthrough season of 2010/11, injuries, lacklustre performances and a general sapping of confidence looked to have consigned Ryan to ‘whatever happened to?’ status. However, with less than 12 months left on his contract, the flanker hit form at the right time. 12 appearances and four tries (up to December 25) this season and providing much-needed aggression in the back row. Made his Ireland debut, in November, against Georgia. A shoe-in for a new contract.

Best try: Darragh Fanning (v Wasps)

The winger also scored a nice try against Glasgow in March but, given context, this fine score tops the bill. Leinster were trailing at home to Wasps when Jamie Heaslip made a super break up the middle. Eoin Reddan spotted the space out wide and Fanning finished off after a clever grubber into the corner. The try proved a winning catalyst.

Best performance: Leinster 34-12 Glasgow Warriors

Like a true cup team, Leinster pulled out a clinical performance when it counted. Brian O’Driscoll hobbled off after eight minutes but O’Connor rejigged his backline by introducing Ian Madigan and shifting Gordon D’Arcy to 13. Zane Kirchner had his best game in blue and Shane Jennings was at his bustling, organising best. The snug win clinched another league trophy and gave O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen a sweet send-off.

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