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Impressive contracting leaves Cullen's Leinster squad in a good place

The province confirmed 28 new deals ahead of next season.

GIVEN LEINSTER’S CUSTOM of officially confirming all their re-contracting news at once, there tends to be plenty to digest and today’s announcement of 28 new senior deals was no different.

Some of these deals were signed and sealed as early as last year but there is still lots of exciting news for Leinster supporters with the confirmation of new contracts for outstanding players including James Lowe, Caelan Doris, Jordan Larmour, Ross Byrne, Josh van der Flier, and Andrew Porter.

As expected, 33-year-old lock Devin Toner has extended his stay for another year, coming off his IRFU central contract onto a provincial deal as James Ryan moves in the other direction. Having shown good form last season, Toner more than earned this contract.

leinsters-scott-fardy-talks-in-the-leinster-team-huddle Scott Fardy speaks to his Leinster team-mates. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Even at 35, Scott Fardy would have been in demand elsewhere but the Australian was keen to stay with Leinster. His value as a leader and player remains undiminished.

Leinster were always going to extend Lowe’s deal given the sheer impact he has made on the pitch, while he is almost certain to be capped by Ireland in November when he qualifies under the old residency rule.

Dan Leavy has been out of action since his horrendous knee injury last year but he has come through his rehab impressively and, with his contract extended, will now look to return to former heights when he gets back onto the pitch.

Fellow back row talents and Ireland internationals Rhys Ruddock, Doris, and van der Flier have all extended their stays, while Will Connors – an Ireland squad member during this year’s Six Nations – had no interest in switching provinces despite the competition in this area of the pitch at Leinster.

While the Ireland-capped players grab more attention, nearly as important for Leinster is tying down a raft of superb squad men who consistently perform while the internationals are away. The likes of Ross Molony, James Tracy, Josh Murphy, Peter Dooley, Ross Byrne, and Ed Byrne could have searched out the first-choice status they would hold in so many other clubs, but they were keen to remain with their native province and in one of the finest rugby environments in the world under Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster.

Meanwhile, Trinity scrum-half Rowan Osborne being kept onboard after impressing last season underlines how the All-Ireland League can help produce players for the pro game.

Ireland-capped Adam Byrne will be keen to push on again when rugby resumes and the 26-year-old still has plenty of potential to fill, while Rory O’Loughlin, also 26, is another man who will feel he is ready to take another step up in 2020/21.

At tighthead prop, retaining Porter to keep pushing Tadhg Furlong is crucial, while veteran Michael Bent and 24-year-old Vakh Abdaladze contribute vital depth.

garry-ringrose-and-james-tracy The IRFU has yet to announce Garry Ringrose's new two-year central contract. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

This announcement confirmed that Ireland regulars Larmour and van der Flier remain on Leinster contracts, but Garry Ringrose’s absence from the province’s list was notable. The outside centre is understood to have already agreed a two-year central IRFU deal but that hasn’t been publicly announced by the union yet, explaining his why he was missing.

Continuing the ever-impressive theme of homegrown strength at Leinster, Cullen and Lancaster have promoted five players from the academy onto senior deals in Ryan Baird, Harry Byrne, Jack Dunne, Tommy O’Brien and Dan Sheehan.

Baird and Byrne have already been in Ireland squads so their progress is no surprise. Both are major prospects for Irish rugby.

Second row Dunne is an athletic and intelligent player in whom Leinster see exciting room for development, while outside back O’Brien is in the same mould – still understandably raw in some aspects but with a high ceiling of potential.

Hooker Sheehan is the only one of the five yet to make his senior debut but he has been outstanding in the All-Ireland League with Lansdowne. An impressive physical specimen at 6ft 3ins and around 110kgs, he will step into the hooker depth chart in place of Bryan Byrne, who initially left for Bristol on loan but whose Leinster deal has expired now. 34-year-old Sean Cronin’s contract extension keeps him as part of the pecking order at hooker.

26-year-old Byrne is one of the seven men to have left Leinster this summer and will surely make an excellent signing somewhere else.

It was already known that second row Oising Dowling and tighthead prop Jack Aungier have signed for Connacht, while Roman Salanoa is now a Munster tighthead, but Leinster also confirmed the exits of Barry Daly, Gavin Mullin, and Joe Tomane.

Former Wallaby Tomane was always likely only to stay for his initial two-year term but he won supporters over last season with a string of good performances after enduring some harsh abuse in his first campaign with the province. Fit-again Conor O’Brien will now hope to start pushing Robbie Henshaw for the 12 shirt. 

barry-daly Barry Daly is one the players who have left Leinster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Ex-Ireland U20 centre Mullin didn’t manage to make it through from the academy but certainly has the talent to impress somewhere else, while 27-year-old Daly was bedevilled by injuries. The flying wing was the top try-scorer in the 2017/18 campaign of the Pro14 with 12 tries but didn’t even get a chance to make a single appearance in 2019/20 due to injury. 

In the end, Leinster have kept every single player they wanted to keep and they even get to extend Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden’s contracts for the short-term so that experience duo can help the province finish out the 2019/20 campaign.

Kearney is keen to play on into next season and will hope for enough chances to show he can still deliver, but McFadden will hang his boots up at the conclusion of this ’19/20 season.

Despite the long break for the entire sport, many will be backing Leinster to round out their campaign in the Champions Cup final on 17 October. 

Either way, the future continues to look bright for the province after the latest contract confirmations.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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