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Dublin: 12°C Monday 14 June 2021
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It would be 'an honour' to work with BOD - Leinster code hopper Te'o

The 27-year-old looks set for his first-team debut against Edinburgh on Friday night at the RDS.

Te'o arrived in Ireland after winning the NRL with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Te'o arrived in Ireland after winning the NRL with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

BEN TE’O'S LEINSTER debut on Saturday was a far cry from the NRL final just three short weeks before.

The 27-year-old lined out in the 13 shirt for the province’s ‘A’ side in a 26-24 British and Irish Cup defeat to Carmarthen Quins at The Park in the south west of Wales, with a handful of supporters watching on.

On the 5th of October, he had helped the South Sydney Rabbitohs to a NRL trophy in front of 83,833 people at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

A stark contrast, but there are far bigger days in Leinster colours ahead for the abrasive centre.

[It was] very interesting,” says Te’o of his first game in professional rugby union. “I think the ruck area is going to be a challenge for me and a bit of positioning, but I enjoyed it. I had fun and I got involved, so I’ve just got to continue to improve.”

Souths had been keen to keep Te’o in rugby league beyond the end of their 2014 season, offering a “great deal,” but the New Zealand native had already set his sights on “something new.”

Having played union until the age of 16, before he “fell in love” with league after his very first taste of the 13-man code, Te’o had long wondered whether he had the ability to make the return transition.

Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor met the imposing ex-second row in Australia during Queensland’s State of Origin Series in June, convincing Te’o that he could smoothly oversee the player’s move to union, having experienced both codes himself as a player.

The idea from the Irish province’s point of view was that Te’o could fill the major gap being created in their midfield by Brian O’Driscoll’s retirement.

Quite the task, but the once-capped Samoan league international says the history of Leinster’s 13 jersey has little effect on what he intends to do.

Ben Te'o Te'o may wear 13 outside Noel Reid for Leinster this weekend. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“There’s no pressure at all,” outlines Te’o. “I haven’t felt that at all since I’ve been here. I think when people mention my name with Brian, I think they’re just saying that I’m going to come here and play in the 13 jersey.

“I don’t think that they’re comparing abilities at all, because I don’t think I could get up to that standard. I’m just here to play my own game. I think I bring a different set of skills to the table and that’s why Matty brought me over here.

“I’m not trying to be like anyone else.”

Upon announcing that Te’o would be joining Leinster, O’Connor indicated that his new signing would benefit from some one-to-one work with O’Driscoll, learning the skills that will help him to adapt more swiftly.

The now retired 35-year-old seems the ideal person to help Te’o understand the key breakdown and positioning skills involved in playing in the centre, but the 6ft 2ins powerhouse says the lessons have not started at this stage.

I haven’t met him yet, but I’m sure I’m probably going to meet him at some stage. There’s a wealth of knowledge in that training room, there are guys in there that I can bounce ideas off and they’ve been sort of guiding me on the training paddock.

“If I get the opportunity to do some one-on-one with him, that’d be an honour, because I know what he’s done in the game. If not, the coaching staff here will help me out enough.”

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While he awaits the tutelage of the former master, one would presume that Te’o has been eating match tape, analysing union and looking for any technical edge. However, the one-time Brisbane Bronco learns best through physical actions, rather than watching others.

“I think me personally, I’m someone that just learns by doing. I can watch a fair bit of rugby,” says Te’o, “but there’s nothing like getting out on the training paddock and being in a game simulation.

“It’s just going to come with experience, but I’m eager to get involved, I’m eager to learn. My technique right now is probably not up to scratch, but the intent is there. I can’t wait to hit some more rucks.”

Ben Te'o Te'o admits he will have to work hard on his technical weaknesses. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Along with learning breakdown skills and positioning himself more intuitively defensively, Te’o will have to update his tackle technique, with a focus on wrapping the arms as union requires.

The 27-year-old has had disciplinary problems at times in his career, being summoned by the NRL judiciary four times in the last two seasons alone, although he comes across as a calm, thoughtful individual.

O’Connor will look to push Te’o's aggression to the edge, but not beyond.

“I think I’ve got size and I think I’m a strong ball runner,” says Te’o of his strengths. “There are things that I’ve got to work on. I’ve got to adjust to the structures here; there’s a lot more plays here than I’m used to.

“I’m not trying to be a very technical guy and pretend that I know all that stuff. I’m just going to get out there and do what I do.

I’m a strong ball carrier and I think if I can add that to the side and add go forward, I can do my job.”

Te’o has been linked with making a late surge for inclusion in England’s World Cup squad next year, qualifying as he does through his English-born mother.

However, he underlines that “I’m not looking at international rugby at all right now,” instead focusing on “proving myself first and foremost to my [Leinster] teammates, earning their respect.”

The process is set to continue with a first-team debut at the RDS against Edinburgh on Friday evening in the Pro12. Just three weeks into his rugby union career, does he feel ready?

“Yeah, why not? I think it’ll be a big learning curve, but I think I’m up to the challenge. There are always going to be areas where I can improve, but I’m never going to learn if I don’t get in there.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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