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Dublin: 13 °C Friday 22 February, 2019

Analysis: Ringrose, McGrath and van der Flier bursting for Leinster starting roles

With Leinster in major European trouble, Leo Cullen must look to the future.

LEINSTER’S BEST PASSAGE of play during their 19-16 defeat to Wasps yesterday came with a number of replacements on the pitch, many of whom played important parts in manufacturing the try finished by Josh van der Flier.

Luke McGrath, James Tracy, van der Flier and Dominic Ryan all had telling impacts as their hunger off the bench showed up impressively in contrast to the tired performances of some of the bigger names around them throughout the rest of the game.

Garry Ringrose Ringrose was absent from Leinster's matchday squad yesterday. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

A week earlier against Wasps at the RDS, Garry Ringrose’s 10-minute cameo as a substitute was one of the few positives in that hugely damaging 33-6 loss.

Given that Leinster’s European campaign is now in a perilous state, it would seem a wise move to give these young players starting chances in Leinster’s biggest games over the coming weeks and months.

Even if not from a developmental viewpoint, some of Leinster’s less experienced players deserve to be in the starting side on form. Ringrose may only be 20 years of age, but he had every right to be frustrated at being the 24th man yesterday and watching from the stands.

Ringrose, McGrath and van der Flier should all have strong hopes of starting in Toulon on 13 December, as the evidence is that having them on the pitch will give Leinster a greater chance of success.


Leinster’s replacements yesterday positively bristled with vitality and desire to make an impact, bringing an exuberance and energy that appears to be sorely missing in some of the province’s more experienced men at present.

McGrath bustled from ruck to ruck after replacing Isaac Boss, playing a particularly prominent role in the van der Flier try.

The former St. Michael’s man has had three starts in the Pro12 this season, as well as a three appearances off the bench and two in Europe, which is evidence that Cullen does rate him. There are certainly still major strides to be made in his game, but he has form on his side in comparison to Boss and Eoin Reddan.


One of the concerns over McGrath in recent seasons has been the consistency and quality of his passing game. The 22-year-old is obviously working extremely hard in this area – as is every professional scrum-half in the world – and the results are showing on the pitch.

McGrath is the man to launch the Leinster attack for van der Flier’s try after Tracy finds Devin Toner at lineout time on the the halfway line, and it’s a demanding pass for the former Ireland U20 captain to make.

It’s 10 metres at most, but with Leinster having won the ball in the middle of the lineout and Stuart Hooper advancing in the hope of intercepting, McGrath needs to put plenty of power behind it.

This is his very first involvement in the game and it’s a successful outcome. McGrath then turns on the acceleration to get across to the far side of the pitch to launch the second phase. His speed to the ruck – without ever getting there too early – has been an impressive feature of the scrum-half’s play in recent times.

Tracy’s throw at the lineout is his opening involvement too. The UCD hooker immediately moves onto his next job after a successful dart, namely dropping towards the near touchline to ensure Leinster have width then they come back from the left.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 4.42.56 p.m.

Some sharp play in midfield allows Dave Kearney space wide on the left to make a strong carry and bring about a 10-metre gain for Leinster on first phase, before Rhys Ruddock does superbly to eat up another metre in midfield on the way back.

Having bided his time near the right-hand touchline, Tracy is the next carrier and makes an important contribution.

Tracy Carry

It’s a beautifully direct line from the 24-year-old off Luke Fitzgerald’s short pass and he barrels through George Ford and Matt Banahan to bring Leinster right into the Bath 22, rather than simply accepting the tackle.


There’s venom in the carry from Tracy, a blatant desire to break a tackle, get beyond the gainline, bring Leinster back into the game and also impress on an individual basis in the short stint of time available to him.

Marty Moore is next to carry in midfield, with the Ospreys failing to release in the tackle and bringing about penalty advantage.

The easy thing to do for Leinster is slow down and accept the penalty, but McGrath is eager to play and fires the ball away to Johnny Sexton, who feeds Dominic Ryan inside for another excellent, determined carry.


Not content just to provide this gainline progress, Ryan bounces back to his feet and carries the ball again two phases later, beating the initial tackle and fighting his way towards the Bath tryline to keep Leinster on the front foot.

Ryan Carry 2

One minute into this sweeping Leinster attack, Bath are struggling with their defensive organisation – prime ground for McGrath to produce one of his trademark arcing runs around the fringe of the ruck.

Van der Flier reads his scrum-half’s intentions intelligently, identifies the hole in the Bath defence and turns on his blistering pace to gallop through and finish powerfully.


It’s a classic bit of scrum-half play from McGrath as he runs a clever curved line away from the ruck, getting outside Hooper in the pillar position and crucially attracting Dave Attwood (grey scrum cap) into committing to him.


McGrath is composed and calm in his actions, delaying his pass until the perfect moment when Attwood has fully bitten down on the scrum-half and opened up the hole for van der Flier to rampage into.

Like Tracy and Ryan, van der Flier is positively brimming with desire to make a positive contribution for the team. He goes through the gap and gets up his left hand to fend Niko Matawalu, keeping his balance well when the Fijian slaps it away.

Given the speed van der Flier is moving at at this point, he’s going to be hard to stop, but the final spurt of leg drive takes him through Matawalu and Anthony Watson to finish the try.

The 22-year-old former Wesley College man is not the biggest back row in the Leinster squad, but has worked hard physically in recent seasons to add additional bulk and, more importantly, power to his frame.

Work rate

There are two sides to the impression made by Leinster’s replacements during this excellent passage of attack. Firstly, they fit into the structures sublimely well.

One of the most striking things about van der Flier’s score was how fluid and organised Leinster looked in the build-up, with every player in the right place, the rucks perfectly resourced and McGrath allowing Sexton to direct the attack as we know he can.

The likes of McGrath, van der Flier and Tracy have not had months out of the Leinster set-up; all they know is the Leinster playbook. That said, shapes and structures are only as effective as the players attempting to make them successful on the pitch.

It doesn’t matter how smart your game plan is if you don’t have players making big plays in the heat of matchday. McGrath, Tracy, Ryan and van der Flier do so in this instance, just as Ringrose did last weekend in his short time on the pitch against Wasps.

Break and Offload

Above, we see Ringrose bumping off the tackle of the excellent Elliot Daly, a future England international, and then having the skill and intelligence to throw an accurate offload after he makes the bust.

On the very next phase, Ringrose is on his feet again and putting his hand up to carry the ball.

Next Phase

Ringrose’s sharp footwork allows him to beat another tackle, but it’s the effort to contribute a second time so soon after his initial break that is most impressive here.

He’s hungry, he wants to be on the ball, he is desperate to get Leinster over the tryline.

That attitude is what Cullen’s side were so glaringly missing for the previous 70 minutes against Wasps in the RDS, leading to a humbling result that left their European season in major trouble.

Ringrose’s reward for an excellent cameo, as well as five strong performances for Leinster in the Pro12 so far this season (four of them on the wing), was to be left out of the matchday squad for the must-win fixture in Bath.

The former Blackrock College man is another who has plenty of work ahead of him to round out his game, as do the likes of McGrath, Tracy, van der Flier and several other young Leinster prospects like Ross Molony, but they thirst to make things happen for their side.

Experience, reputation, game plans, shapes and so many other factors come into consideration when selecting teams, but sometimes sheer energy and hunger is the most important attribute of all.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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