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How Cullen and Lancaster's Leinster have used 51 players this season

Max Deegan, James Lowe, and Scott Fardy have racked up the most minutes in the squad.

IN KEEPING WITH recent times, Leinster have once again used more players than any other province this season.

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have given game time to a total of 51 players.

The 2019/20 campaign has been suspended for now, meaning Leinster are unlikely to match the totals of 57 and 56 from the previous two seasons.

In the current campaign, 30 players have featured in both the Pro14 and Champions Cup, with Johnny Sexton the only one of the 51 players not to play in the Pro14 at all.

max-deegan-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-rhys-ruddock Max Deegan has played more minutes than any other Leinster player. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Leinster’s busiest player this season in terms of match day appearances is scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park with 18, made up of nine starts and nine replacements appearances for a total of 736 minutes of game time.

The most-used player in terms of minutes on the pitch is back row Max Deegan with 1,039 minutes across 16 appearances.

The only other player to breach the 1,000-minute mark is wing James Lowe with 1,025 minutes across 13 appearances.

Next busiest have been Scott Fardy [911 minutes] Devin Toner [864], Dave Kearney [823], Ross Byrne [766], and Peter Dooley [713].

Leinster have given senior minutes to eight players who are still in the academy this season in the shape of Harry Byrne, Tommy O’Brien, Jack Aungier, Jack Dunne, Roman Salonoa, Michael Milne, Oisin Dowling, and Ryan Baird.

On top of that, all seven players who graduated from the academy onto senior contracts last summer – Ciarán Frawley, Hugo Keenan, Ronan Kelleher, Conor O’Brien, Jimmy O’Brien, Hugh O’Sullivan, and Scott Penny – have received game time.

scott-fardy-with-darcy-rae Scott Fardy has featured heavily. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

2018 academy graduates Caelan Doris, Jordan Larmour, Josh Murphy, and Will Connors have featured prominently again, while Vakh Abdaladze has also been involved.

With a raft of frontliners often away on Ireland duty but many promising young players to keep happy, it’s a real balancing act for Cullen and Lancaster.

Below, we go through Leinster’s squad in different positions and position groups to outline how each player has been used.

The format below is (starts + replacement appearances = total minutes of game time).

Hookers:

James Tracy (6+10 = 595)
Ronan Kelleher (9+0 = 489)
Sean Cronin (4+4 = 309)
Bryan Byrne (0+5 = 117)

The emergence of Ronan Kelleher as Leinster’s first-choice hooker has been the story of the season in this position, with the 22-year-old hoovering up starts with Sean Cronin away during the World Cup.

james-tracy-arrives James Tracy has been busy for Leinster. Source: Ryan Hiscott/INPHO

A hand injury deprived Kelleher of more exposure in the Champions Cup, in which he had started Leinster’s opening three pool games.

33-year-old Cronin returned from the World Cup injured, meaning that 28-year-old James Tracy has had an even more important role to play, including six appearances in the Champions Cup.

26-year-old Bryan Byrne had limited minutes off the bench in the Pro14 and departed to Bristol on loan in February, with his Leinster contract expiring this summer.

Leinster’s academy includes the highly-rated Dan Sheehan, who will look to push into the senior reckoning next season.

Loosehead props:

Peter Dooley (11+4 = 713)
Cian Healy (7+1 = 401)
Ed Byrne (1+6 = 230)
Michael Milne (0+8 = 176)

Cian Healy’s Ireland involvements have given 25-year-old Peter Dooley a chance to further establish himself this season, with his 11 starts in the Pro14 more than any other player in that competition.

peter-dooley-runs-in-with-his-team-ahead-of-the-kick-off 25-year-old Peter Dooley has impressed. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

32-year-old Healy’s six Champions Cup starts underline his status as the first-choice at loosehead, of course, while Dooley and 26-year-old Ed Byrne have made three replacement appearances each in Europe.

21-year-old Offaly man Michael Milne is waiting on his first senior Leinster start but the academy player has racked up eight appearances off the bench this season.

Tighthead props:

Michael Bent (9+2 = 560)
Andrew Porter (6+3 = 423)
Tadhg Furlong (4+2 = 274)
Vakh Abdaladze (0+4 = 124)
Jack Aungier (0+5 = 80)
Roman Salanoa (0+3 = 59)

33-year-old Michael Bent has quietly been an important player for Leinster for many seasons now and his form has remained strong in the current campaign, in which he has been the most-used tighthead prop.

michael-bent Michael Bent is a Leinster stalwart. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

With 27-year-old Tadhg Furlong as heavily involved with Ireland as ever, he has featured just once in the Pro14 and instead primarily played in the Champions Cup.

24-year-old Andrew Porter has had three European starts this season and another three in the Pro14, where 23-year-old Vakh Abdaladze – who has also been sidelined through injury – and academy tighthead Jack Aungier have also featured off the bench.

Abdaladze and Aungier have not yet started a senior game for Leinster, who also have the promising Ireland U20 tighthead Thomas Clarkson in their academy ranks.

The emergence of Hawaiian prop Roman Salonoa, 22, has been intriguing too. A supreme athlete, the former high school American football player has quickly learned the ropes in Ireland since arriving full-time in 2017.

Second rows:

Scott Fardy (12+2 = 911)
Devin Toner (11+2 = 864)
Ross Molony (6+7 = 574)
James Ryan (6+1 = 416)
Ryan Baird (2+4 = 280)
Oisin Dowling (0+2 = 94)
Jack Dunne (0+2 = 18)

The acquisition of Scott Fardy in 2017 has proved to be a masterstroke for Leinster with the durable 35-year-old still playing exceptional rugby and providing leadership from the second row and sometimes the blindside flank.

devin-toner-and-ross-molony-after-the-game Leinster locks Devin Toner and Ross Molony. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

Fardy has been Leinster’s ’911′ man this season, while 33-year-old Devin Toner has remained vital too, bouncing back from the disappointment of being left out of Ireland’s World Cup squad to impress in Leinster colours.

With James Ryan a key man in the Ireland squad, 25-year-old Ross Molony has continued to shine in Leinster’s second row, providing gritty consistency and leadership.

20-year-old Ryan Baird has made the most notable impact of the three academy locks involved this season, underlining that he is a major prospect for Irish rugby in the coming years. Baird, who has also had minutes at blindside flanker, trained with Ireland twice during their Six Nations campaign.

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Oisin Dowling and 21-year-old Jack Dunne have both made two replacement appearances each, the latter only returning from injury relatively recently.

Remarkably, Ryan, Baird, Dowling and Dunne all came through St Michael’s College in Dublin.

Leinster’s academy also includes Charlie Ryan and Brian Deeny, who has been playing his second year of Ireland U20s rugby this season. 

Back rows:

Max Deegan (12+4 = 1039)
Caelan Doris (10+3 = 743)
Will Connors (9+1 = 616)
Rhys Ruddock (8+3 = 615)
Josh Murphy (8+3 = 544)
Josh van der Flier (6+1 = 461)
Scott Penny (5+2 = 416)      

Despite Dan Leavy remaining sidelined with the knee injury he suffered last season and Jack Conan returning from the World Cup with a foot injury that has kept him out of action for months, Leinster’s back row has remained rich in quality.

josh-murphy Josh Murphy is a consistent performer. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The continued rises of 23-year-old Max Deegan and 21-year-old Caelan Doris have been the major story in this area of the pitch for Leinster, although the breakthrough of 23-year-old Will Connors has been eye-catching too.

All three have earned Ireland call-ups this season, with Doris and Deegan making their Test debuts during the Six Nations.

Doris and Deegan are both number eights by trade, but Deegan has shown his versatility by starting in both flanker positions for Leinster. Connors is an out-and-out openside and one of the best tacklers in Irish rugby. 

While Doris and Deegan have been enjoying Champions Cup starts, Connors has not yet featured in Europe.

26-year-old Josh van der Flier remains a key man for Leinster, starting all six of the province’s Champions Cup games and excelling before returning to Ireland duty.

29-year-old Rhys Ruddock provides leadership and has been looking for his best form again after being omitted from Ireland’s Six Nations squad this year. 

The unheralded blindside Josh Murphy, now 25, is an important figure for Leinster in the Pro14, particularly having added strength and size last summer, while he also got his Champions Cup debut off the bench this season. His ability to move into the second row is useful too.

21-year-old openside Scott Penny is another exciting talent who awaits his European debut but he has racked up 416 minutes in the Pro14, taking him clear of last season’s total of just under 400.

Martin Moloney, who has been injured this season, is the only back row currently listed in Leinster’s academy.

Scrum-halves

Jamison Gibson-Park (9+9 = 736)
Luke McGrath (9+1 = 570)
Rowan Osborne (1+3 = 116)
Hugh O’Sullivan (0+6 = 98)

Now Irish-qualified, Jamison Gibson-Park might have hoped to push into Six Nations contention after being involved in a training camp under Andy Farrell in December.

jamison-gibson-park-arrives Jamison Gibson-Park is now Irish-qualified. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Instead, he has remained a key figure in the Leinster ranks, making more match day appearances than any other player.

27-year-old Luke McGrath returned from the World Cup as the first-choice at scrum-half, however, making five starts in the Champions Cup.

Trinity’s Rowan Osbourne, 23, initially joined as World Cup cover and has remained on to make four appearances in the Pro14, showing his ability. 

Still only 22, Meath man Hugh O’Sullivan hasn’t had a starting chance this season, while academy scrum-half Paddy Patterson hasn’t featured after making three appearances last season.

Out-halves:

Ross Byrne (10+3 = 766)
Ciaran Frawley (3+9 = 342)
Harry Byrne (3+7 = 323)
Johnny Sexton (3+0 = 175)

It has been a superb season for Ross Byrne, another to bounce back from World Cup exclusion by performing impressively with Leinster.

ross-byrne-scores-a-penalty Ross Byrne earned an Ireland recall this season. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

The 24-year-old has benefited from racking up notable game time and controlling the Leinster team in captain Johnny Sexton’s absence. Indeed, 34-year-old Sexton has made only three starts for his province this season due to the World Cup and his knee injury.

While Byrne has impressed and earned his place back in the Ireland squad for the Six Nations, his younger brother, 20-year-old Harry, has also underlined his rich potential with a string of assured cameos off the bench, as well as in his three starts.

Still part of the academy, the younger Byrne brother has also been involved with Ireland this year, travelling to Portugal with Andy Farrell’s squad for their pre-Six Nations training camp.

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Ciarán Frawley had shown his own quality in most of his appearances for Leinster this season, including his first three appearances off the bench in the Champions Cup. The talented playmaker gives Leinster another strong option at 10.

Centres:

Jimmy O’Brien (8+2 = 674)
Joe Tomane (8+0 = 583)
Garry Ringrose (7+0 = 550)
Robbie Henshaw (6+1 = 456)
Rory O’Loughlin (6+0 = 429)
Conor O’Brien (4+2 = 246)
Tommy O’Brien (1+2 = 130)

When fit and available, 26-year-old Robbie Henshaw and 25-year-old Garry Ringrose are the clear first-choice pairing in midfield for Leinster, with five Champions Cup starts as a combination this season.

leinsters-jimmy-obrien-and-hugo-keenan Jimmy O'Brien has shown class at 13. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Their Ireland commitments naturally mean opportunity for others, however, and 23-year-old Kildare man Jimmy O’Brien has been one of those to step up.

It’s worth noting that two of O’Brien’s eight starts in the Pro14 this season came at fullback early in the campaign but he has settled impressively at outside centre since. He will be keen to push for a first Champions Cup appearance next season.

As expected, 30-year-old Joe Tomane has delivered an improved second season with Leinster, racking up eight starts in the Pro14, although his contract was due to expire this summer and the province have not yet officially confirmed their list of renewals.

26-year-old Rory O’Loughlin is a valuable player and started a Champions Cup game at inside centre this season, while 24-year-old Mullingar man Conor O’Brien has been impactful when called upon.

21-year-old academy centre Tommy O’Brien made his senior debut this season, starting against Ulster in December.

The Leinster academy includes the uncapped David Hawkshaw – who can also play at out-half – Gavin Mullin, and Liam Turner, who has been with the Ireland 7s team this season.

Wings:

James Lowe (13+0 = 1025)
Dave Kearney (11+1 = 823)
Cian Kelleher (4+3 = 378) 
Adam Byrne (5+0 = 375)
Fergus McFadden (4+2 = 344)

27-year-old James Lowe will be Irish-qualified in time for this year’s November Tests and Leinster will expect to see less of him thereafter. This season, though, he has happily been playing exclusively for Leinster and has racked up more minutes than anyone else except Max Deegan.

james-lowe-runs-in-a-try James Lowe is a durable player. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

30-year-old Dave Kearney, meanwhile, has enjoyed an excellent campaign for his province, earning himself a place in Ireland’s Six Nations squad with his consistent form.

Cian Kelleher, now 25, hasn’t quite enjoyed the perfect return from Connacht this season, featuring only in the Pro14. Similarly, 25-year-old Adam Byrne hasn’t been involved in the European campaign.

33-year-old Fergus McFadden is another wing not to feature in Europe and he has the fewest minutes of the wings, having had injury issues this season.

Prolific 27-year-old Barry Daly was deeply unfortunate to suffer a serious knee injury in pre-season and only recently made his comeback with club side UCD.

Leinster’s academy includes wing Aaron O’Sullivan, who has been with the Ireland 7s.

Fullbacks:

Hugo Keenan (8+1 = 626)
Jordan Larmour (7+0 = 524)
Rob Kearney (3+5 = 304)

This season has seen 22-year-old Jordan Larmour take over as Leinster and Ireland’s first-choice fullback, succeeding Rob Kearney in both jerseys.

hugo-keenan-with-pete-horne Hugo Keenan previously excelled for the Ireland 7s. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

34-year-old Kearney’s IRFU deal is set to expire at the end of the current campaign, in which he has mainly provided bench cover in the big European games after starting at the World Cup for Ireland.

24-year-old Hugo Keenan has been heavily used by Leinster at fullback this season, making eight starts in the Pro14 and improving throughout the campaign. Having been part of the Ireland 7s set-up in recent seasons, Keenan is now firmly a full-time 15s player.

21-year-old academy fullback Michael Silvester will hope to push into contention next season.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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