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The emerging stars of the 2019/20 season: Jack O'Sullivan

The 21-year-old number eight returned from a long-term knee injury at the start of this season.

OUR NEW SERIES looking at young rugby players who emerged to signal their potential at senior level during this campaign got underway earlier this week with a piece on Leinster lock Ryan Baird.

Today, we turn the focus towards a Munster man.

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Jack O’Sullivan’s performances for the Ireland U20s in 2018 marked him out as a player of major potential but Munster fans ended up having to wait longer than expected to watch the Cork man make his senior debut for the province.

The 21-year-old number eight would likely have featured at some stage last season but an ACL rupture meant the 2018/19 campaign was essentially a write-off for O’Sullivan, with that injury keeping him sidelined for 10 months.

rory-scannell-jack-osullivan-and-niall-scannell O'Sullivan [centre] with his cousins, Rory and Niall Scannell. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Back in action this season and eager to make up for lost time, his competitive Munster debut came in September off the bench against the Dragons in the Pro14. O’Sullivan has gone on to earn a total of six appearances [amounting to 264 minutes] in the championship, including three starts.

O’Sullivan also got his Champions Cup debut as a replacement against the Ospreys at Thomond Park in January, when he came on at openside flanker with CJ Stander remaining on the pitch at number eight. 

A cousin of Munster stars Niall and Rory Scannell and their younger brother Billy, who plays for Biarritz, O’Sullivan comes from strong rugby stock.

Long-time Munster doctor Tadhg O’Sullivan is his father, a fine player in his own playing  days with Sunday’s Well, where Jack first took up the sport.

The youngster moved into schools rugby with Presentation Brothers College, Cork, where he won a Munster Schools Junior Cup in 2014 before captaining the school to Senior Cup glory in 2017, playing alongside Jonathan Wren and Seán French, who are both part of Munster’s academy now.

O’Sullivan’s rise continued with Ireland underage honours and he shone for the U20s in what was a tough 2018 Six Nations campaign as they won just two games. The number eight’s all-action performances caught the eye, with four tries rewarding his dynamic, skillful, hard-working play.

jack-osullivan-arrives O'Sullivan has made seven senior appearances for Munster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

O’Sullivan’s ACL injury struck just weeks before that summer’s World Rugby U20 Championship, however, depriving Ireland of a key player as they finished 11th and narrowly avoided relegation for the 2019 competition.

Happily, UCC clubman and student O’Sullivan has bounced back from his injury, scoring an impressive try as he made his first senior Munster appearance in a pre-season friendly against London Irish last September.

His ball-carrying energy remains an eye-catching feature of his play, while O’Sullivan’s ability to catch and pass comfortably is a key weapon too. An intelligent players who makes good decisions, O’Sullivan has been described as “a classical eight” by Munster head coach Johann van Graan.

O’Sullivan impressed in what was Munster’s most recent game against the Scarlets on 29 February, starting at number eight and scoring a try from close-range.

Munster have used the 6ft 2ins O’Sullivan three times in the lineout this season. Currently weighing just over 100kg, it does seem likely that he will add muscle mass as he continues to develop as an athlete, although his pace and dynamism are crucial physical attributes that Munster will work hard to ensure he retains too.

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The challenge for O’Sullivan next season will be to continue building his experience and exposure in senior rugby. Munster confirmed in January that the Cork man is moving onto a three-year senior contract this summer, the length of that deal underlining how highly they regard his ability and potential.

Stander is the well-established incumbent at number eight, but O’Sullivan will be hoping to get a stranglehold on the jersey whenever Stander is away with Ireland or rested. 

O’Sullivan will also hope for further opportunities in the Champions Cup next season, meaning he may be required to cover the two flanker positions as well.

Given his mobility and skillset, O’Sullivan looks well suited to any such task. While the opportunity for further game time in the short-term is gone for now, O’Sullivan looks like making an even bigger impact for Munster in the future.

- This article was updated at 7.26am on 26 March to correct an error stating that O’Sullivan had played for the Ireland 7s team.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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