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'It's always easier to have 10 than two' - Leinster's back row riches

With Jack Conan and Dan Leavy back in the mix, the province will have serious depth.

LAST WEEK BROUGHT good news as Leinster confirmed that openside flanker Dan Leavy is into the final stages of rehab after his horrific knee injury over a year ago.

The 25-year-old Ireland international is expected to be ready to play again whenever rugby resumes.

Add to that the fact that number eight Jack Conan, having recovered from a foot injury, had already returned to full training for two weeks before the Covid-19 restrictions were put in place and all looks very rosy on the back row front for Leinster.

jack-conan-celebrates-after-winning-the-guinness-pro14-final Jack Conan hasn't played for Leinster since last season's Pro14 final. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leavy and Conan haven’t featured for the province at all in the 2019/20 season due to their injuries but, even still, the competition for places in Leinster’s back row has been fierce.

Caelan Doris and Max Deegan’s performances earned them their first international caps for Ireland, while openside Will Connors – who is still waiting on a Champions Cup debut – was called into Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad on the back of his excellent displays.

Josh van der Flier was superb for Leinster in the number seven shirt in Europe and Rhys Ruddock has continued to provide leadership.

20-year-old openside Scott Penny managed to rack up more minutes than he had done last season, while Josh Murphy has been a consistently impactful performer when called upon at blindside flanker.

Leinster have just one back row in their academy at present in Martin Moloney, who excelled in the Ireland U20s’ Grand Slam success last year, although he has been injured for a large part of the current campaign.

Add Leavy and Conan back into the mix now and Leinster have 10 back row options as they look towards the resumption of rugby. Make that number 11 if you include Scott Fardy, who has started exclusively in the second row this season.

caelan-doris-and-max-deegan-after-the-game Caelan Doris and Max Deegan have excelled this season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The sheer depth of quality means Leinster head coach Cullen and senior coach Stuart Lancaster will have some serious selection headaches whenever the sport does get back up and running.

“It’s always easier to have 10 than two, it’s more challenging when you only have two back rows because then it’s hard to actually field a matchday squad!” said Cullen yesterday, having confirmed that Leinster have not made any new signings for next season.

“We know it’s going to be competitive. The competition does drive performance, definitely. Nothing quite beats it.

“Back row, realistically, it’s one of the most attritional areas of the game. Traditionally, we have always found ourselves with three or four back rowers injured on the sideline.

“Obviously Dan has been out for a good chunk of time, Jack has been out for a good chunk of time. Even Martin Moloney, he has been in and out and hasn’t really been able to string together a huge amount so far this year, unfortunately for him.

“It is what it is. We will see what it all looks like when we get everyone back together.

martin-moloney Martin Moloney is in Leinster's academy. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Growing depth has been a big part of everything that we have done.

“Giving some young players exposure, the work that goes on in the academy, seeing what players are out there in terms of that talent ID and talent development piece as well.

“We will continue to work away on that. You reap what you sow in many ways. We have tried to invest heavily in that aspect of the province.

“We will see how that all unfolds when we get everyone back. We are very much open-minded. We will see how everyone goes in training whenever we do get back and then make some calls.”

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Murray Kinsella

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