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Munster's O'Sullivan enjoying Leamy influence and playing alongside cousins

The 23-year-old back row has had peaks and troughs over the past few seasons.

O'Sullivan has started both of Munster's games this season.
O'Sullivan has started both of Munster's games this season.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Updated Sep 30th 2022, 9:00 AM

MUNSTER HAS BEEN a family affair for Jack O’Sullivan from a good way back.

His father, Tadhg, is the long-time Munster doctor while his cousins, Niall and Rory Scannell, were already established in the playing squad by the time Jack joined the academy straight out of school in 2017.

His other cousin, fellow 23-year-old Billy Scannell, is now back with Cork Con in the AIL after a stint over in France with Biarritz. Rugby seems to be in the blood, although O’Sullivan’s grandfather, Dónal, was a Cork great in football.

“It’s unreal,” says O’Sullivan of having his cousins in the Munster squad.

“I’d be very friendly with Rory. Niall would be more like a father figure to me really! He’d be giving me all sorts of advice whether I want it or not. That’s more the dynamic.

“It was so handy growing up. If I ever had any questions or even when I got into the academy, they always pointed me in the right way around body language and all that sort of stuff when you’re just learning. They’ve really given me help coming up.”

O’Sullivan came out of school at Presentation Brothers College, Cork with a reputation as a number eight of great potential. He furthered the excitement with a superb Six Nations campaign for the Ireland U20s in 2018, starting all five games and scoring four tries. He was unfortunate to miss that year’s World Rugby U20 Championship with a knee injury.

O’Sullivan’s senior Munster debut arrived in 2019 when he was still 21. His Champions Cup debut followed a couple of months later. Those early days were a story of rapid rise.

But things slowed up thereafter. Any expectation that O’Sullivan would kick on and become a regular first-choice player for Munster didn’t materialise. The back row started seven games over the last two seasons. There has been frustration with injuries and non-selection.

jack-osullivan O'Sullivan excelled for the Ireland U20s in 2018. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“There’s always going to be peaks and troughs in sport,” says O’Sullivan. “I’ve been given chances and maybe sometimes didn’t perform as well as I should have and other times was maybe unlucky with injury and Covid and there was a lot going on.

“The back row is so competitive. When you’re not playing, there’s lads coming in who are playing really well. Once that happens, it’s hard to get back into a team. You’ve got to try stay positive, keep working, and trust that your chance will come.”

This season has started well for O’Sullivan, even if Munster have struggled so far. He’s been in the number eight shirt for both games against Cardiff and Dragons, scoring a close-range try against the former.

It was a powerful finish from the Cork man and something he has been looking to improve in his game.

“I’m feeling as fit as I ever have been, so I’m confident that way. It’s something we work on a lot in Munster, that sort of hand on the floor and drive close to the line.

“It’s something we’re very good at in the power zone. It’s something I’ve been working on for a while now so it’s nice to see it pay off.”

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O’Sullivan has been living with fellow back row Gavin Coombes, who is sidelined with injury at the moment, and they tend to work well together on the training pitch, doing lots of little extras around their tackling and breakdown skills.

“For a West Cork man, he’s actually quite clean so that’s a positive,” jokes O’Sullivan of his house-mate.

jack-osullivan-and-gavin-coombes O'Sullivan and Coombes are close friends. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

He’s enjoying working with Munster’s new-look coaching team this season. He feels he’s improving every week with how intensely Graham Rowntree and Mike Prendergast are putting their players’ skills under pressure in training. 

And there’s the bonus of working with former Munster back row Denis Leamy, now the province’s defence coach. He’s someone O’Sullivan looked up to when he was younger.

“Growing up, he was one of my idols as a Munster back row and international back row. I actually worked a good bit with him underage, he coached me at 18s and 19s so I knew how he worked.

“He’s intense but he’s well able to have a laugh and bridge that too. I really enjoy what he brings. When he’s giving you the message, he was such an impactful player himself that you really believe what he’s saying and you want to go do it for him as well.”

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Murray Kinsella

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