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'You have to step up your game if you really want to get into the team'

Max Deegan is the man in form right now but the Leinster man knows there is a queue of people ready to take his place.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There was a time when the No8 options for Leinster and Ireland started and ended with Jamie Heaslip. Yet if ever the tired old cliché about shirts being rented was appropriate, it’s now.

In the initial post-Heaslip world, Jack Conan appeared to have secured a long-term tenancy but injury ended that unwritten agreement. Caelan Doris was next in line and looked set to dominate for years to come. Alas, it was weeks not years; his place lost to Max Deegan, who produced a man-of-the-match display for Leinster in yesterday’s win over Lyon.

 “The competition in the squad is incredible,” Deegan said. “Everyone is playing well; putting in unreal performances, so you just have to step up your game if you really want to get into the team. It’s as simple as that.”

Well, life is never that simple when your rival (Doris) is also one of your closest friends. “Look, we get on really well and we know that it is all about the team, so that competition in training and games only serves to push us forward. Caelan is playing great rugby as are the entire back-row – (Scott) Penny, Will (Connors), Rhys (Ruddock), Josh (van der Flier), everyone.

“We need to keep driving the standards in training because it is coming out in the games. Everyone is stepping up and trying to put their hand up for a jersey.”

And just a Leinster jersey. The Irish one, too, is up for grabs, Deegan selected for last month’s two-day training camp. “It was great,” Deegan said, “just nice to meet everyone – all the players that I play against yearly and to get to know them more on a personal basis.

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“The coaches as well, meeting them and learning about how we want to play as a country made it a very interesting couple of days.

Getting into that squad has put a goal in my eyes of getting into the next squad and the one after that. So I’m looking to deliver big performances every time I play. Working on that consistency is the key thing now.”

The immediate goal, however, is simpler. Top seeding for the Champions Cup quarter-finals is in Leinster’s hands. All they have to do is deliver against Benetton Treviso this weekend. “We have always been looking for top seed in the competition from day one. We knew to get that we would have to win every game and that will be the focus this week.”

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