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Rugby league influence grows at Leinster with Te'o and Douglas settling

Former Leinster boss Michael Chieka recommended the province to both players.

Te'o could make his senior Leinster debut this weekend against Edinburgh.
Te'o could make his senior Leinster debut this weekend against Edinburgh.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THERE’S A DISTINCT rugby league influence within the Leinster camp these days.

As the province’s style of play shifts to a more direct, linespeed-based game plan under head coach Matt O’Connor, the two big signings of this season have come from rugby league backgrounds.

Centre Ben Te’o won a NRL title with the South Sydney Rabbitohs before joining Leinster earlier this month, while Wallabies capped lock Kane Douglas grew up in a rugby league family.

Both players are ideally suited to the style of rugby O’Connor favours.

Direct carrying with ball in hand, kicking to pressurise the opposition inside their own half and a stifling rush defence – the Australian head coach has certainly changed how Leinster play the game.

While O’Connor was capped in rugby union by Australia [against Ireland in 1994], he is the son of a former rugby league international and played the code professionally himself in France in the late 1990s.

That background has influenced his coaching beliefs and style, making it little surprise that O’Connor has brought on board two players who match up to those philosophies perfectly.

Mum and Dad followed league growing up and I only started playing rugby when I was fifteen,” says Douglas. “My first few years playing, my Mum and Dad didn’t have much of an idea of what was going on! But they’ve sort of grown to like it.

“It was good for me doing something different, because my brother plays professional rugby league in Australia. My body type’s more suited to rugby and it’s been a good ride.”

Sean Cronin and Kane Douglas with Matt Mullan and Joe Launchbury Douglas supports Sean Cronin during the Champions Cup clash against Wasps. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Luke Douglas, three years Kane’s senior at 28, is contracted to the Gold Coast Titans and has been capped internationally by Scotland. While Kane’s professional life has been spent playing union, there are league traits in his aggressive defensive game.

Those same strengths are something Te’o is already bringing to the Leinster set-up, if reports of his debut for the ‘A’ side against Carmarthen Quins over the weekend are to be believed.

We pity the Welshmen who attempted to run through the 27-year-old’s explosive 106kg frame.

That O’Connor has such a strong league background, and has made a similar transition to Te’o's makes Leinster the perfect fit for a man who will have to learn the intricacies of the 15-man code.

I was pretty comfortable that he was someone who was a professional athlete and who made the transition as well,” says Te’o.

“He understands what my strengths are, probably what I need to work on, but he’s pretty straight up with me and what he wants me to bring to the side.

Te’o admits that the style of play at Leinster suits him ideally, stating that it’s “a good mix” for him.

“Matty likes defence and getting off the line, things like that,” echoes Douglas. “That’s pretty good, and there’s a bit of rugby league banter here too. I watched those games when Benny was playing in the NRL finals, so that was good.”

While the rugby league element is of interest, there is another strand that links Te’o and Douglas’ moves to Leinster.

Michael Chieka coached the Waratahs to their Super Rugby title earlier this year with Douglas in the second row, while Te’o admits that he turned to the former Leinster coach as he pondered a switch from league to union.

Matt O'Connor O'Connor has a strong rugby league background as a player. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Naturally, Chieka was keen to keep Douglas in Australia, but once he recognised that he was fighting a losing battle, Chieka was at least happy to see the lock moving to his ex-employers.

“He said ‘at least you’re going to a good club.’ He was probably a bit dirty that I was going, but he said he loved his time here,” outlines Douglas.

Chieka was more encouraging with Te’o, whom one suspects the Waratahs and Australian rugby will be keeping a very close eye on over the course of a two-year deal in Ireland.

Through talking with my manager and meeting with Michael Chieka, he kind of recommended to come here, said it’s the best place in Europe to learn rugby, it’s a successful club and he pretty much sold it to me,” explains Te’o.

While Douglas is out of the Wallabies picture until any rule change regarding overseas-based players, he has little doubt Chieka will be a success in the international game, having taken over from Ewen McKenzie ahead of the November Tests.

“He’s very passionate and he was a good coach for me. He’s very physical and a pretty honest type of guy. I think he’s going to do well with the Wallabies.”

Read more from Ben Te’o on TheScore.ie tomorrow morning, as the centre explains the challenges he faces in transitioning to rugby union.

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Murray Kinsella

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