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Deegan slips into his favourite position as Leinster face toughest test of young season

The back row has had to divide his time across three positions, but starts at 8 for the second time this season.

Deegan in training this week.
Deegan in training this week.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

HIGHLY-SKILLED, ATHLETIC and effective at the ruck, Max Deegan’s best position is at number 8.

But he has had to be versatile when racking up 51 caps in the nearly-three years his Leinster debut.

In the post-Jamie Heaslip era at Leinster Jack Conan naturally filled the void. And when the Ireland number 8 has been away, this past year Caelan Doris has been consistently preferred in the position. Deegan has kept his shoulder to the wheel, packing down at both openside and blindside in order to make his impression.

“It is tough (dividing attention between three positions), because you want to nail down one position and kind of have that perfect,” says Deegan.

“I’m kind of used to that. You might cover two positions in a game and if someone comes off the bench you can slide across to the other one. I’m well used to it at this stage so it’s no problem but it’s definitely more difficult than just sticking to one position all of the time.”

When Leinster travel to face Connacht this evening, Deegan will start at number 8 for Leinster (kick-off 19.35, eir Sport), flanked by Will Connors and Josh Murphy. Increasingly, though, the one position he is getting to focus on is blindside, where his ability as a line-out jumper and footwork in the carry have helped give Leinster an edge.

“I’m starting to like the six role quite a bit at the moment. I like how we play the six.

“I’m really enjoying the line-out aspect and different things like that. Looking forward, I’m liking six, but eight and even seven are all options.”

The squeeze will be on for back row places in Cullen’s squad in the coming weeks with Rhys Ruddock among the replacements today and Josh van der Flier also due back in the fold for Europe.

Leinster titled the opening block of the season ‘own the jersey’ to incentivise their young stars’ performance. Deegan is one of the men who will be pushing to retain a shirt when the Champions Cup opener against Benetton comes around next Saturday.

I was happy enough with how I went. I played in a few different positions and I was enjoying it, but I’m definitely looking to kick on over the next 11 weeks. I’m looking forward to getting some good game time.

 “I think everyone did a great job, all of the younger lads, five wins out of five. It’s been a great block, getting a lot of the younger lads in, a few caps, first starts and things like that.

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“It’s been great. But this week all of the lads are back, they were dipping in and out last week but everyone is back now this week.”

We thought there might be a post-World Cup comedown, but then Saracens went and Saracened. Andy Dunne joins Sean Farrell and Gavan Casey as the pod segues from the international to club season.

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