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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

'It's a work in progress': Hawaiian prop makes first Leinster appearance

21-year-old Roman Salanoa came off the bench during Saturday’s pre-season defeat of Coventry.

BY USING ALL 29 of his extended matchday squad on Saturday afternoon, Leo Cullen afforded himself the opportunity to cast his eye over a number of players operating at senior level for the first time, including tighthead prop Roman Salanoa.

A former high school American football player from Hawaii, Salanoa has been with Leinster since September 2017 and after training with the senior team during pre-season, came off the bench for the final 14 minutes of the province’s 47-17 victory over Coventry at Donnybrook.  

Roman Salanoa Salanoa came off the bench on Saturday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Standing at six foot and tipping the scales at over 125kg, Salanoa — who has Samoan ancestry — is an extremely powerful and dynamic athlete, and showed glimpses of his potential on his first senior appearance for Leinster.

The 21-year-old has been playing AIL rugby with Old Belvedere since his arrival in Ireland nearly three years ago and has developed under the coaching and guidance of Leinster’s sub-academy coaches, while lining out for the province’s ‘A’ side in last season’s Cara Cup campaign.

“It’s his third season over here,” Cullen explained. “He’s just learning the nuances of playing rugby. In terms of a physical profile, he’s so big and powerful and he moves well for someone his size.

“He has got good athletic ability, but it’s just learning the nuts and bolts of scrummaging first. As a tighthead, that’s what you want first and foremost from him. He’s working away and getting more exposure to coaching all the time. It’s a work in progress with Roman.”

The Leinster head coach was ‘relatively pleased’ with his side’s first outing of pre-season, as a number of players impressed during the seven-try hammering of their English Championship visitors.

Cullen’s young side scored five of their tries before the break during an excellent first-half display, with Vakh Abdaladze [2], Josh Murphy, Adam Byrne and Harry Byrne crossing in the first 40, while Max Deegan and Ronan Watters rounded off the scoring in the second period.

On his first senior appearance for Leinster, Ireland U20 international Byrne produced an assured display at out-half and scored 17 points, while Clontarf prop Abdaladze caught the eye again at the set-piece and in the loose, ditto Rónan Kelleher at hooker. 

Both Barry Daly and Adam Byrne, back after a quad injury forced him to miss the final stages of last season, looked sharp with ball in hand and Cian Kelleher enjoyed a solid second Leinster debut at fullback.

“I thought it was pretty good,” Cullen continued. “Pre-season is always a mixed affair but overall we’re pleased. No major injuries and that’s certainly number one on the agenda.

Harry Byrne and Adam Byrne Harry Byrne scored 17 points. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We used 29 players as well. It was good, a lot of guys representing Leinster for the first time. As you’d expect, there is lots to work on. It looked a bit disjointed in the second half when there’s lots of chopping and changing but we want to get guys on and see them play as well.

“Overall, it was reasonably pleasing, particularly in the first half.”

Cullen also reserved special praise for Dublin University scrum-half Rowan Osborne, who was one of three AIL players drafted in to train with Leinster during the summer, and was handed a starting opportunity at nine.

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Osborne enjoyed a couple of bright moments during the first half and Cullen said afterwards that Leinster will continue to dig deeper into the club game after being impressed by the 22-year-old on Saturday, as well as St Mary’s back row David Aspil and Clontarf’s Tony Ryan in training. 

“I thought Rowan acquitted himself well in the first half,” Cullen said.

“You’re never too sure what guys like that are going to be like. I thought he showed some good signs and again it’s a good lesson for us in terms of guys still playing in clubs.

It’s definitely a good experience and an eye-opener for us just to see what else is out there. We’re always digging to see who is playing club rugby and it has been a pleasing exercise for us.

“If you’re not in one of the provincial academies, it can be a real challenge but there are other guys who are playing out there. They are late bloomers, if you want to call them that.

“Dave [Aspil], he was a bit unlucky as he had a bit of an issue with his hammy so wasn’t involved today, but it’s important for us to keep looking in the club game.”

Cian Kelleher and his brother Rónan Kelleher Cian and Rónan Kelleher after the game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

On Cian Kelleher, who is Leinster’s only new addition this season after the former St Michael’s man returned from Connacht during the summer, Cullen added he is not yet sure whether he’ll play on the wing or at 15 this term. 

Kelleher looked to get his hands on the ball at every opportunity on Saturday, regularly running it back at a weak Coventry defence from the backfield, or joining the attacking line during Leinster’s dominance in opposition territory.

“Overall, Cian was good,” Cullen added. “He’s very explosive, very powerful and a really good finisher.

“He has been good. He has got himself in good physical condition since he has come back and has worked hard. Rónan as well, I thought he was good. The Kelleher brothers were good.”

Leinster are now due to travel to Ontario on Tuesday ahead of their second friendly against Canada at Tim Hortons Field this Saturday, with Cullen set to bring a more experienced group on that tour.

The likes of Fergus McFadden, Scott Fardy, Jamison Gibson-Park, Michael Bent, Ciaran Frawley and Joe Tomane were all in the stands on Saturday and could return to action this week.

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Ryan Bailey

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