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'He's big and very powerful' - Highly-rated Sheehan set for Leinster debut tonight

Meanwhile, Liam Turner gets a starting debut, while David Hawkshaw and Ciaran Parker are on the bench.

22-YEAR-OLD hooker Dan Sheehan will be following in family footsteps when he makes his Leinster debut against Zebre at the RDS this evening [KO 7.35pm eir Sport/TG4].

His late grandfather, Denis Shaw, played for the province back in the 1950s.

While Sheehan has been something of a slow-burner in breaking into senior professional rugby, there is excitement about his potential within the Leinster system.

For those seeing him play for the first time tonight, he’s very hard to miss. At 6ft 3ins, Sheehan is tall for a hooker and his 110kg bulk allows him to deliver real impact in the carry and tackle. Indeed, his size means he looks more like a back row.

As well as his obvious physical attributes and a confrontational streak, Leinster like his lineout throwing.

dan-sheehan Dan Sheehan makes his Leinster debut tonight against Zebre. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A former Clongowes Wood College student, there were initially some concerns over his height when it came to scrummaging but Sheehan has diligently and aggressively gone about proving any doubters wrong.

He was in the same age-grade group as current Leinster team-mate Ronan Kelleher coming through the ranks and he missed out on involvement in the U20 Six Nations in 2018 before an injury to Kelleher saw Sheehan called in for the World Rugby U20 Championship, where he played back-up to Munster’s Diarmuid Barron.

Leinster themselves weren’t fully sure of Sheehan’s long-term potential at that point and he originally linked up with their academy on a short-term basis, but he was soon delivering outstanding performances for Tony Smeeth’s Trinity in the AIL.

Sheehan – whose father, Barry, played for UCD in the ’80s and ’90s – has since joined Lansdowne and his excellent form continued there, while he was superb for Leinster A last year, scoring eight tries in eight games in their Celtic Cup campaign.

Sheehan moved onto a senior contract over the summer and has been patiently waiting for a debut, with his chance coming tonight against Zebre as Sean Cronin misses out with an injury niggle and Ireland international James Tracy backs him up on the bench.

“He is big and very powerful,” says Leinster boss Leo Cullen of Sheehan. “He came into the academy with a little bit of uncertainty, it just shows you. He wouldn’t have been someone who featured massively with the U20s, others would have featured ahead of him.

“He’s applied himself very well. He had clear physical potential but he has definitely joined up a lot of dots. He’s improving his set-piece all the time – a very good thrower of the ball. His scrum bits working with Robin [McBryde, Leinster's scrum coach] are getting better all the time.

“He’s still a young man. We’re delighted how Dan has gone. He has had to bide his time to get his opportunity. He has been a little bit unlucky, came very close on a couple of other occasions but just didn’t get there.

“It’s a big day for him. It just shows you that whatever the pecking order at one moment in time, it’s not going to be the pecking order forever. He’s had work his way through his own age group but then when you get to the senior group as well.”

Cullen also pointed out that Sheehan’s younger brother, Bobby, is an even taller hooker at 6ft 5ins and has been impressing for UCD. 

liam-turner Liam Turner starts at outside centre. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Dan gets his Leinster opportunity against Zebre and will be keen to continue his upward trajectory, while there is another senior debut in the backline that Cullen has picked for this game.

21-year-old Liam Turner, who is in Year 2 of the academy programme, wears the number 13 shirt in a youthful midfield alongside 22-year-old Ciarán Frawley and 21-year-old out-half Harry Byrne.

Blackrock College product Turner – he captained them to the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 2018 – was superb for the Ireland U20s in 2019 as they won a Grand Slam, has shone for Trinity in the club game, and featured for the Ireland 7s team earlier this year.

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He’s 5ft 8ins tall and around 90kg, so different dimensions compared to some of the monstrous centres in the game, but punches above his size, is combative, has sharp footwork, good decision-making skills, and makes strong defensive reads.

“He shows good on-field leadership and he’s a good communicator as well,” said Cullen of Turner. “Liam backs himself and that’s what we want the guys to do, back themselves and not be overawed by the training environment.

“He picks things up well. It is trying to build that relationship quite quickly with Ciarán in the centre. Harry had been in Ireland camp but came back on Monday. The guys have gelled well and came through the underage system together, played with each other at various different stages.”

There’s another pair of possible Leinster debuts off the bench in the shape of academy fullback/wing Michael Silvester and new tighthead signing Ciaran Parker.

21-year-old David Hawkshaw had initially been in line for his first cap after recently completing his comeback from 17 months on the sidelines with a knee injury by playing for Leinster A against Ulster, but unfortunately picked up an adductor strain in the captain’s run yesterday and has been replaced by 22-year-old Trinity man Silvester. 

On-loan tighthead Parker, formerly of Munster, is set for his first cap, while the return of Dan Leavy after 19 months on the sidelines is hugely welcome.

Leinster:

15. Jimmy O’Brien  
14. Tommy O’Brien 
13. Liam Turner  
12. Ciarán Frawley 
11. Dave Kearney  
10. Harry Byrne  
9. Luke McGrath  

1. Peter Dooley  
2. Dan Sheehan 
3. Michael Bent  
4. Devin Toner  
5. Ross Molony  
6. Josh Murphy  
7. Scott Penny  
8. Rhys Ruddock  (captain)

Replacements:

16. James Tracy  
17. Michael Milne  
18. Ciaran Parker  
19. Jack Dunne 
20. Scott Fardy  
21. Hugh O’Sullivan   
22. Michael Silvester  
23. Dan Leavy

Zebre:

15. Michelangelo Biondelli
14. Pierre Bruno
13. Tommaso Boni (captain)
12. Enrico Lucchin
11. Jamie Elliot
10. Paolo Pescetto
9. Nicolò Casillo

1. Paolo Buonfiglio
2. Marco Manfredi
3. Alexandru Tarus
4. Mick Kearney
5. Ian Nagle
6. Lorenzo Masselli
7. Renato Giammarioli
8. Jimmy Tuivaiti

Replacements: 

16. Oliviero Fabiani
17. Andrea Lovotti
18. Matteo Nocera
19. Leonard Krumov
20. Samuele Ortis
21. Joshua Renton
22. Antonio Rizzi
23. Junior Lalofi

Referee: Craig Evans [WRU].

- This story was updated at 1.19pm to include mention of Michael Silvester replacing David Hawkshaw on the Leinster bench.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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