Robin McBryde on training session that sent message to Leinster's international stars
"We're looking at it as a mini World Cup."
Leinster rugby fans will take a lot from Robin McBryde's press briefing this week, and there is a whole bundle to be excited about. The reigning Guinness PRO14 champs have been unbeaten for over 12 months now but they will need to rediscover their form again to claim the two trophies on offer.
During a 30-minute chat with Leinster's assistant coach, it was confirmed that Dan Leavy would "definitely" be in the selection mix for the August interp-pros, there had been a productive link-up with New Zealand's Crusaders and three more young guns - Thomas Clarkson, Jack Dunne and Dan Sheehan - were pressing for front-row berths.
Of all the topics touched upon by the Welshman, the tale of a young Leinster pack putting it up to the established stars was the most enlightening. The more McBryde spoke, the more you wished to have been a fly on the wall for the battles that took place in Donnybrook.
McBryde was asked about 21-year-old Ryan Baird pressing for first XV selection for the big games at the end of the season, now that James Ryan has been ruled out.
As much as he talked Baird up - and he rates the young lock highly - McBryde spoke enthusiastically of fellow second rows Dunne and Charlie Ryan. He confidently states that the province has three fully game-ready forward packs in their current squad.
"To have that amount of depth that's what hopefully will put us in a good place leading up to this first block of games - being able to train against each other with that sort of intensity that is matched.
"The last week that we had together, before we broke up, we were welcoming back the players from the national squad. We'd been tipping away - as you say here in Ireland - as a group of forwards, to rise to the occasion, because we were working on certain things that the international boys wouldn't have seen.
"The unit session that we had down at Energia Park it was well matched and it was certainly a welcome back for the national boys. They certainly had a little bit of an 'Ah right, okay' [moment]. It's not a case of just rolling up and expecting to walk back into the team because everyone else had raised their game. Hopefully that will put us in a good place for this next period coming up now."
That would have been the likes of Healy, Furlong, Ryan, van der Flier, Deegan and Doris going up against Fardy, Baird, Bent, Connors, Molony and Penny. Maybe one year soon, Leinster would be so kind as to release that footage as it sounds fun as hell.
During the course of McBryde's online briefing with the media, he spoke in detail about two young players - Clarkson and Sheehan - that may yet have a role to play in the 2019/20 end-game, and when the new season kicks off.
"Obviously we’re going to lose Andrew [Porter] and Tadhg [Furlong, in November and December] but then it’s going to be an interesting mix. You’ve got the experience of Michael Bent and then you’ve got the young prospect of Thomas Clarkson, who has pretty much played every single minute of each Ireland U20 match over the last couple of seasons.
"His integration into the group has been fantastic really and we were just commenting earlier as coaches, looking back on the footage of today’s training, how well he has fitted in and adapted to the different demands, the step-up into this environment.
"He’s a really exciting player, so there’s a couple of ways we could play with that. You could start with experience and bring on some youth. Or you can start with the youngster, let him make a couple of mistakes maybe, and then bring the experienced head off the bench and finish the game off. It’s an interesting combination but between the four of them, it’s a great mix to have."
Sheehan is the next hooking prospect off the Leinster Academy production line. Ronan Kelleher was the big breakthrough star, at hooker, last year, and Sheehan could be duelling with him for the No.2 jersey for years to come.
"He’s got a great arm, he just needs to be able to control it a little bit but I think he’s got the quickest arm here among the hookers currently," said McBryde. "He can really zip that ball quite a distance.
"It will be interesting and again he has fitted in well with the group, stepped up to the level, the intensity. He’s great with ball in hand, defensively he’s pretty solid, so he’s another one that you know is going to be around for years. It's not a question of if he’s going to get an opportunity, it's when the opportunity is going to present itself to him.
"His physical stature, he’s a big man - one of the modern-day hookers - and that alone sets him apart from a lot of other hookers. So I’m looking forward to working with Dan as well."
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