Leinster hooker Dan Sheehan. Evan Treacy/INPHO
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Sheehan: Leinster aiming 'to take every point available' in URC this season

The Leinster hooker has made a strong start to the new campaign, scoring four tries against Benetton last week.

IT’S NOT LONG since Dan Sheehan first broke through with Leinster and then Ireland, but the hooker has already tasted bitter lows and some extreme highs in his young career.

He was on the pitch last season as Leinster lost out in the Champions Cup final and URC semi-finals, a desperately disappointing ending to a campaign which had promised so much. That was soon followed by a summer tour to New Zealand with Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad. Sheehan started all three Tests against the All Blacks as the group became the first Ireland team to win a Test, and a series, on New Zealand soil.

It was an historic achievement which some of his Ireland teammates had been chasing their whole careers. For Sheehan, it came before his 24th birthday. To some degree, it’s still only sinking in. 

“That was one thing coming back (to Ireland),” Sheehan explains. “Down there it was obviously a huge thing but the support and the hype coming back here, seeing my parents, my parents’ friends, all this stuff and the shock… it’s still going on now. Everyone is talking about it. It’s crazy and for the likes of Johnny (Sexton) and Pete (O’Mahony), who went to New Zealand 10 years ago, when we got pumped, for those lads…

“For me to do it first time (in New Zealand) maybe it didn’t set in as the big achievement it was, but I know fully well now that it was a pretty good achievement.”

Sheehan looks to have carried his strong form into the new season, scoring four tries in Leinster’s 42-10 defeat of Benetton last weekend, three of which came following good work by the Leinster pack.

Having struggled against physically imposing teams like La Rochelle, the Bulls and Saracens over recent seasons, the power game is an area Leinster are again looking to improve on over the coming months.

“We have a lot of meetings at the start of the season and during pre-season blocks about what we’re about this year, what we want to be, changes from last year, coming off the back of a disappointing season last year where we probably went well all the way up to the end, but the end is where it matters,” Sheehan continues.

dan-sheehan-scores-a-try Sheehan scored four tries against Benetton last week. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“So we set a goal to make sure we’re taking every single point available and then it will just be about continuing that form throughout the season, especially toward the end of the season where one slip will cost you a title. 

“I think everyone is in good form and ready to crack into the season.

“The lineout fired really well (against Benetton) and I thought our go-forward from it was top class. Even outfield, getting that go-forward, sucking them in and then being able to capitalise on them being tight with the backs playing their plays off the back of it.

“It’s something we’ve been working hard on and looking to keep it going now, it’s a big part of our game.”

That heartbreaking Champions Cup final loss in Marseille is a low point the Leinster squad will continue to touch on throughout the season. Sheehan explains how that experience, and the tour to New Zealand, has informed his approach to the new campaign.

Just the little moments in games that at the end, you look back and that’s the point that’s a momentum-shifter. Rugby is a massive game of momentum. You see it where you’re on top, it’s easy to stay on top but if you’re behind in your own 22, in your own half, it’s hard to get out. 

“So it’s the little things like set-piece. Set-piece was huge over the summer, even towards the end of last year with the scrum. So if we get our set-piece firing and we’re able to exert a bit of dominance, I think that’s where we focus on this year.”

The addition of Jason Jenkins will also help. It’s early days yet, but the powerful lock – who joined from Munster over the summer – already looks like a potential game-changer for the province, who play their first interpro of the new season tomorrow when they take on Ulster in Belfast.

“His sheer power, and he’s a very smart player,” Sheehan says of Jenkins.

“You see it in the tight carries, he’s making gain line every time and then during the week he’s bringing in a lot of experience, different ideas into the mauls and in scrummaging.

“He’s a bit of meat that we probably needed a little and it’s great to see how he’s gone, and hopefully he’ll do a job for the next few weeks.”

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