Leinster's Caelan Doris. Ben Brady/INPHO

Caelan Doris leading by example across Leinster's Champions Cup run

The backrower was highly influential in the recent wins against Northampton and La Rochelle.

WITH CO-CAPTAINS GARRY Ringrose and James Ryan both out of action, Leinster have become increasingly reliant on Caelan Doris over the past couple of months.

The backrower has stepped up to captain Leinster in the Champions Cup defeats of La Rochelle and Northampton Saints, and delivered influential performances in both knockout wins.

Doris only captained Leinster for the first time in January and while he admitted to some initial learning curves, the extra responsibilities haven’t held him back on the pitch.

He was excellent against La Rochelle last month and had another strong game when Northampton visited Croke Park on Saturday, with his aggressive defensive efforts and abrasive ball-carrying coming to the fore.

Doris is one of those players who holds an ability to grind out a couple of extra yards when carrying into contact – as he does here when carrying off a Northampton restart, stepping through two defenders and offloading to Josh van der Flier.  


And here with this strong carry in the lead-up to Ryan Baird’s second-half try in the quarter-final defeat of La Rochelle, generating momentum even while carrying hard into some of the French side’s big physical forwards.

LR 42 carry before Baird try

Doris is excellent at using his footwork to avoid running straight into contact. This example from later in the La Rochelle game shows him stepping around the first tackle before presenting clean ball.


This is the type of thing he does so well multiple times in a game. A minute after the above example, he does a similar step to carry into the space between two La Rochelle players and avoid charging into the first defender. 

LR 60 carry into contact

Doris is also comfortable getting involved in Leinster’s attack and showcasing his handling skills, including this nice pass to Jamie Osborne which almost results in a linebreak against the Saints.

N 52 hands to Osborne

And this smart pass inside to Ross Byrne against La Rochelle. Doris manages to keep the ball alive under pressure but unfortunately for Leinster it doesn’t come off as Byrne gets hit while trying to take possession.

LR 47 pass to Byrne close 2

Early in the Northampton game, Doris did really well to release the ball after going close to scoring Leinster’s second try.

After Leinster win a clean lineout on the Northampton 5-metre line, Doris joins the maul and then peels off with a strong charge at the tryline. While two Northampton players manage to prevent him from scoring, Doris somehow fires the ball out, with Jamison Gibson-Park reacting quickest to bat the ball out to James Lowe for an easy finish. 

N 16 assist Lowe

While the Northampton players try to smother Doris, the backrower has the awareness to pop the ball up to Gibson-Park – again, keeping the ball alive under pressure.

N 16 assist Lowe close 2

Doris is a good decision maker in the heat of battle, and this has allowed him become a defensive leader for Leinster.

He helped set the tone early against Northampton on Saturday, this driving tackle where he flings Saints’ hooker Curtis Langdon to the ground resulting in an early turnover.


And this tackle late in the first half, where he uses his strength to swallow up flanker Sam Graham with Byrne.  


Doris has proved highly effective in Jacques Nienaber’s defensive system, with the below a good example of how the number eight operates.

As Northampton settle into their attacking shape, Doris shoots out to make the initial tackle, while two Leinster players hold off before joining the breakdown. 

N 19 defence example

Doris himself is powerful and accurate over the ball, getting in to clear big Will Skelton out of the way early on against La Rochelle.

LR 6 clear Skelton

Here, he combines with Joe McCarthy to rip the ball back against Northampton – avoiding giving away a penalty at the first attempt before latching onto Langdon at the second attempt. 

N 47 steal with McCarthy

Doris is a highly aggressive defender, as illustrated here during the second half against La Rochelle. Sensing the danger from an overthrown lineout, he quickly snaps up to make a big tackle to shut down Yoan Tanga before he can release a pass.


The reward is that La Rochelle can’t settle into possession and when the ball spills loose 20 seconds later, Doris is on hand to boot it down the far end of the pitch.


His chase here is exceptional – Doris outrunning the chasing La Rochelle pack to put pressure on replacement Paul Boudehent and win the ball, before having the awareness to offload to Lowe.

Unfortunately for Leinster, Jordan Larmour is pinged for a knock-on in the process of stealing the ball back with Doris, but nonetheless, it’s a good example of Doris’ impressive engine. 


Doris has a huge workrate, and appears to be fresh despite having a long season in his legs. Doris has played 24 games for Ireland and Leinster so far this season, and played every minute of Ireland’s Grand Slam success. From 22 starts, he’s played the full 80 minutes 16 times. 

No Leinster backrower has played more minutes this season for club and country, with Doris (1,679 minutes) almost four full matches clear of Josh van der Flier, who is next best (1,372 mins).

Those are impressive numbers given the amount of work Doris gets through, and the former Blackrock man tends to cover a lot of ground on the pitch.

Against Northampton, he had the pace to cover Ciarán Frawley as the Saints attacked from a spilled box-kick, Doris catching up with Juarno Augustus to shield his opposite number out of play and prevent a try being scored. 

N 55 chase

It’s striking how often Doris produces big plays in the final quarter, and all of the above came together as he played a massive part in the end-game against Northampton, the captain heavily involved as the Saints chased Leinster’s lead across a frenetic finish at Croke Park. 

In the 74th minute he got off the ground quickly to make a try-saving tackle on Northampton replacement Elliot Millar-Mills, although this passage of play ends with Tom Seabrook scoring out wide. 


With Leinster now protecting a three-point lead, Doris was central to helping them see the game out, starting with another strong carry where he does well to protect the ball.

N 77 carry

He then gets back involved to usher Courtney Lawes away from a potential turnover as Rónan Kelleher carries. Lawes was proving a nuisance at this point and on the next phase the backrower does manage to disrupt Leinster’s ball and force a turnover.

Yet it’s the Leinster captain who has a decisive final say.

Doris is one of the first defenders to get across as Northampton launch a counter down the right wing, barrelling into James Ramm to take him out of the attack. 

N 78 charge

By the time Northampton get to the edge of the Leinster 22 he’s worked his way back into a more familiar defensive position. As Northampton move through their phase attack, Doris tries to get in for a turnover and while he can’t get his hands to the ball, crucially, he doesn’t concede a penalty.

N 78 breakdown

Twenty seconds later he finds himself in a similar position, and this time Leinster win the penalty – with Doris later describing it as a joint effort between himself and Jack Conan. 

N 79 pen win

This angle shows how Doris manages to stay on his feet and get a hand on the ball – ending Northampton’s last chance of stealing a shock win or forcing extra time.

N 79 pen win close

From the next lineout the province are able to kill the game – and Doris’ reaction sums up how most Leinster supporters felt when the final whistle sounded.

N reaction

Leinster will hope to have at least one of their co-captains back for the 25 May final meeting with Toulouse, but Doris has led by example in their absence.

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