Larmour slots in seamlessly to underline his credentials at fullback

The 21-year-old was excellent against France after being drafted in to replace the injured Rob Kearney.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

AS THE WIND swirled and heavens opened during Ireland’s warm-up, you wondered how difficult an afternoon Jordan Larmour — drafted into the starting XV after Rob Kearney’s late withdrawal — was in for at fullback.

It underlines the trust Joe Schmidt has in the 21-year-old that he had no reservation in dropping him in at the last minute, but even still, the loss of Kearney’s experience and defensive stability in such conditions was a setback.

Jordan Larmour supported by John Cooney and CJ Stander Larmour made a darting second-half break. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Larmour’s last starting appearance, against Argentina back in November, exposed his vulnerability under the high ball, so even considering his obvious talent in possession, this was a stern appraisal of his credentials as an international fullback.

Told on Sunday morning he would be making his first Six Nations start after calf tightness ruled Kearney out, Larmour clearly embraced his opportunity, producing a positive first involvement with an excellent kick into space behind the blue shirts. From there, Ireland struck through captain Rory Best. 

It was an early settler for the Leinster fullback and while there was a difficult moment in the air against Damien Penaud, when a knock-on spared Larmour and Ireland on this near side, he grew into the game as it progressed. At times, he had the crowd on their feet.

One of the strengths of Kearney’s game is his communication with the back three and his management of the backfield, but Larmour showed he is growing into this role with some intelligent and mature link-up play with Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale, while using his pace to cover the large swathes of grass in his jurisdiction.

Granted, Ireland’s dominance in the possession and territory stakes, particularly in the first period, meant Larmour wasn’t pressed into defensive duty as much as expected, but he was able to slot in seamlessly. 

With ball in hand, the former St Andrew’s man is a lethal threat while Ireland used him very cleverly during the opening 40, the fullback regularly running decoy lines to confuse the French defence, notably for Johnny Sexton’s try. 

Then, in the second half, a glimpse of Larmour’s superb broken-field running ability, the Leinster flyer scything through the heart of the French defence, ducking and weaving his way through before being smothered by Mathieu Bastareaud just as he set his eyes upon a first home try.

This capacity to come into the line and jink and step his way through opposition defences, leaving four French defenders for dead, before turning on the afterburners to speed through not only adds to Ireland’s attacking armoury, but compliments the strike runners in Earls and Stockdale on either side.

He could, perhaps, have taken a more direct route to the line rather than take another step in this instance, but Schmidt was understandably pleased with how his fullback performed upon his promotion to the starting XV.

“Well his first involvement was special, wasn’t it?” the Ireland head coach smiled.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates scoring their second try with Jordan Larmour and Conor Murray Larmour celebrates Sexton's try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Finding that space into the corner, forcing Damien Penaud to put that ball into touch after the kick receive. I thought that was super and I’m sure that gave him a spring in his step, that his first involvement was positive.

“On the back of that, he built a number of other good positive involvements. He was probably a little bit lucky that Penaud knocked the ball on from the cross-kick and that’s one of the things as a fullback, he’s still learning to get into the right position at the right time.”

Overall, it was a hugely positive afternoon for Larmour, who will no doubt take great confidence from another assured performance on the international stage, as he made 10 breaks across 76 metres, beating nine defenders.

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“When he scythed through the middle of their midfield defence, he is freakishly good on his feet,” the Kiwi continued.

“I thought he was going to work his way back up the pitch at one stage to make sure he beat everyone. He’s probably learning a bit from that, to get through and step and go, as oppose to step and step and maybe step again.

“I thought he linked well with the back three, he brought the ball back and linked. I thought it was a really good performance from Jordan in a real pressure cooker.

“Yesterday, he’s not starting, Rob is starting and this morning he gets told the calf is still tight, it’s you, young fella, you’re up at number 15. He virtually rubbed his hands together and said, ‘thanks, I’m delighted.’”

As always, there will be work-ons as Ireland turn their attention to Wales next weekend — he was turned over on the French line in the first half — but this was the exposure Larmour requires to build on the exciting career progress he has made in the last two seasons.

When given the chance, Larmour, with confidence and assurance, seized the opportunity to underline his exciting credentials as Ireland’s long-term fullback. Cap number 12, with the 15 on his back, under his belt, and all the better for it. 

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Ryan Bailey

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