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'It's hard to tell between junior and senior guys': Leinster's next generation of back rows fitting right in

Leo Cullen was particularly pleased by Jack Conan’s display after he asked the back row to impose himself on games more .

JVDF dives on the ball ahead of Roger Wilson.
JVDF dives on the ball ahead of Roger Wilson.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THERE WAS BLOOD in the water. Ulster, having started brightly and taken a 6 – 3 lead over Leinster, were presented with an opportunity to take advantage of a Leinster back row with a combined age of 66.

Instead though, the unit of Jordi Murphy (23), Jack Conan (22) and Josh van der Flier (21) did more than hold their own and helped the home side to an inter-pro victory that could prove crucial when the Pro12 playoffs come down for decision in April.

“You can call me the most senior figure,” said a shrugging Murphy post-match, “but we all know our roles well and the two other boys did a great job.”

Conan topped a man-of-the-match performance with a late try, but van der Flier was equally impressive because of the short lead time he was given to prepare for his second senior appearance. Not in the 23 at 14.20, by 14.30 he was named on the bench and by a quarter past three, Jamie Heaslip had trundled off injured and van der Flier was in the thick of the contest.

“Jamie’s our captain so we had to rally around together, but we have a lot of senior figures in the team. Well, to be honest it’s hard to tell between junior and senior guys on the team now. Everyone’s so tight-knit and everyone’s talking. I think we did a really good job.

“Credit has to go to Josh, he was a reserve on the day and about 10 minutes before the game Matt called us over and said ‘Jenno was a doubt’. Two minutes later, I was starting and he was on the bench.

“It was just one of those days: I kind of had a feeling that Josh would get good game time and he came on and did a good job for us - Jack’s obviously been playing outstandingly well this season, he’s in double figures of caps now as well.

Josh van der Flier A battle scarred Van der Flier at training in October. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“[Van der Flier] started early in the season against Zebre and he did a fantastic job over there. You can’t put a guy under more pressure than to be told 10 minutes before the game that he’s on then the bench and then within 20 minutes he’s on the pitch. I think he reacted really well to that and it shows good character. I think he’ll go far.”

Forwards coach Leo Cullen would agree with that sentiment too, saying that van der Flier is ‘unbelievably diligent’ and is ‘pushing really hard for a spot in the team’. However, it was the performance of Conan who gave Cullen the most satisfaction after a little bit of midweek man management.

Jack Conan Conan shows off his man of the match medal. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I had a chat with him during the week and it was just about him imposing himself now.

“He’s had his taste of it now over the past couple of months with plenty of opportunities in the team [six starts in 12 appearances this season]. It’s about pushing on to the next level for him because he has outstanding ability and he’s hopefully got a big future in the team.”

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Sean Farrell

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