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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 17 February, 2019
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Youth the best policy for Leinster as Academy conveyor belt continues to produce

Three of the club’s home-grown players are set to make their international debuts this weekend, as the next crop prepare to take on Zebre.

Adam Byrne and Josh van der Flier are just two players to come through the Academy.
Adam Byrne and Josh van der Flier are just two players to come through the Academy.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE CONVEYOR BELT of talent being produced at Leinster shows no sign of relenting and in an ever-changing rugby landscape, placing faith in youth and the systems in place is being rewarded.

With many of the big names made unavailable for the weekend’s win over Connacht, Leo Cullen was forced to field a relatively youthful side with 12 of the players to feature having come through the province’s ranks.

Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery and Rory O’Loughlin are all still members of the Academy while Josh van der Flier, Peter Dooley, Jack Conan, Adam Byrne and Dan Leavy have recently graduated to earn senior contracts.

In his previous role as Leinster’s Academy manager, Girvan Dempsey has overseen the development of many of the club’s fledgling stars so it’s particularly satisfying for him to see them come through and perform at the highest level.

On his debut for the club, Barry Daly rounded off the victory over Connacht with a try while Byrne, so unfortunate with injuries in recent years, demonstrated his explosive potential with a score of his own.

“We’re fortunate that our Academy system is working really well and we’re getting these guys through,” Dempsey, now Leinster’s backs coach, said.

“They’re getting a chance to play with the senior team and, hopefully, you’ll get to see more of them this weekend.

Adam Byrne gathers the ball to score his sides opening try Adam Byrne goes over for his try against Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It’s really pleasing, but what’s more pleasing is to see them perform because they put in so much work off the field, and are so diligent in every aspect. We’ve got players in the system that are very, very professional, unbelievably so.

“From a young age they’ve put in so much work, in terms of looking after themselves, recovery, diet, nutrition – everything. They never leave any stone unturned because when they chance comes, they want to be able to grasp it with two hands.”

Even with the international players in the fold, the likes of O’Loughlin — who has emerged as an injury doubt for this weekend — and van der Flier have stood out this campaign with the latter, in particular, being the province’s shining light.

The form of Carbery, who is set for his Ireland debut this weekend, underlines the merit of having that Academy structure in place — and the desire to place faith in a player. It would have been easy to dip into the market and recruit an out-half from overseas.

While the management’s hand has been forced somewhat, much of the success has been down to Cullen’s willingness to throw players in at the deep end. As a coach who is still learning and in the embryonic stage of his career, it might be seen as a risk to employ such an approach.

But youth has served Leinster so well in recent seasons. Throughout these international windows, the players deputising for their more senior team-mates have stepped up to the plate and maintained the high standards.

For Saturday’s trip to Zebre, Ross Byrne is in line to make his first start of the season with Cathal Marsh, another home-grown talent, now facing eight weeks out with a finger injury.

Girvan Dempsey Dempsey has played a crucial role in the development of players. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Byrne is the only out-half fit and available to Cullen, other than 20-year-old Jimmy O’Brien. At squad training on Bank Holiday Monday, Jordan Larmour, Josh Murphy, Charlie Rock and Nick McCarthy were among those involved.

Larmour, who did his Leaving Certificate in June, has featured for the Leinster ‘A’ side this season and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him be named on the bench at some stage over the course of the Pro12 campaign.

While much of the rugby focus this week is on Chicago, Leinster will continue to go about their business ahead of the clash with the Italian side. These international windows allow them to use their resources and invest in the players of the future.

As Carbery, Garry Ringrose and Luke McGrath prepare to make their Ireland debuts this weekend, the next crop of players will look to seize their chance in blue in Parma.

Whether Joe Schmidt’s side make history or not over the coming weeks, the contribution of the eastern province’s Academy structure to Irish rugby cannot be underestimated.

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Ryan Bailey

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