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Dublin: 12°C Saturday 8 May 2021

'It feels like having a new player really, he's been gone that long'

Dan Leavy nearly grabbed a late try as he made his Leinster comeback at the RDS.

THERE WAS VERY nearly the perfect ending as Dan Leavy stuck out his left boot and connected with the loose ball on the halfway line, nudging it ahead and surging downfield in hot pursuit.

A second touch with his right allowed the delightfully-named Zebre fullback Michelangelo Biondelli to sprint beyond Leavy, but the Italian gathered and threw a dangerous offload infield to Tommaso Boni in his side’s in-goal area.

Boni duly dropped it forward and it looked like Leavy had pounced to score an 81st-minute try, only for the TMO review to rather annoyingly show that Boni had actually recovered to ground it before Leavy.

dan-leavy Dan Leavy made his return from 19 months out of action. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Nonetheless, the cheers and celebrations when Leavy appeared to have scored spoke volumes of how his Leinster team-mates felt at seeing him back on the pitch after 19 long months on the sidelines due to the horror knee injury he suffered in March 2019.

The 26-year-old delivered a nice catch-and-pass out in the 15-metre channel in the lead-up to Tommy O’Brien’s second try and generally did well in what was a 29-minute outing on his long-awaited comeback.

The 11-times capped Ireland international came through unscathed and can now look to push forward with Leinster in the coming weeks.

“In many ways, it feels like having a new player really, he’s been gone that long,” said Leinster boss Leo Cullen after his side’s 63-8 win.

“The response from his team-mates says it all. People are genuinely delighted to see him back out there because it’s such a long road with a few setbacks along the way, which is something we would always have expected realistically. 

“He brings great presence to the group, he has trained well for a number of weeks and we have managed his return to make it as smooth as possible. The response from his team-mates when he scores that non-try, it was still a great moment and we want the players to be expressing themselves out there.”

22-year-old hooker Dan Sheehan was man of the match for Leinster in a highly promising debut for the province, scoring two tries, assisting another, and delivering a nice show of his set-piece and handling skills along with his obvious physicality.

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dan-sheehan-and-rhys-ruddock Dan Sheehan was man of the match for Leinster, while captain Rhys Ruddock was excellent. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Outside centre Liam Turner, still just 21, was very sharp at outside centre as he won his first cap, while there were two further debuts off the bench.

“It’s fantastic to see some of those guys get an opportunity,” said Cullen. “Dan Sheehan started the game well, scored a couple of tries. Liam Turned looked good in his involvements in the game, did a lot of really positive things, and communicated really well as well.

“Ciaran Parker came off the bench along with Michael Silvester, so it’s pleasing for all of those guys.”

There were also impressive performances from fullback Jimmy O’Brien and right wing Tommy O’Brien, among others, while captain Rhys Ruddock delivered another excellent display.

29-year-old Ruddock has looked highly-motivated and extremely fit in recent weeks, while his leadership remains crucial to the group. Many Leinster fans felt Ruddock was missed in the Champions Cup defeat to Saracens last month.

“He was unlucky with a couple of niggles leading into the first two games back meaning he missed out on a couple of selections,” said Cullen.

“That was always going to be a tricky time with close calls and you’re trying to decide if you keep cohesion or make changes for those games. Rhys was a little bit unfortunate and had to wait for his next opportunity.

“But Rhys is such an important leader in the group and he’s just such a great rugby player but also a great person in terms of how caring he is with everyone else in the environment. He led the group really, really well this week and hopefully it will be a big block of games for Rhys getting some consistency in terms of game time.”     

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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