Ben Brady/INPHO Leinster's Max Deegan.
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Consistency key for Leinster's Deegan in bid to push up Ireland pecking order
The backrower is in the Leinster team that will take on Scarlets tonight.

LEO CULLEN HAS been quick to stress that these are the type of weeks he loves. The Leinster head coach is down significant numbers for tonight’s trip to Scarlets [KO 7.35pm, TG4/Premier Sports 2/URC TV], with 17 of his senior squad involved with Andy Farrell’s 37-man group currently in Ireland camp, while many of those still knocking around Leinster’s UCD base are ruled out with injury.

Cullen’s view is that these are the weeks which really test the group. He gets an opportunity to dig a little deeper into his resources, and find out more about certain players.

One of those looking to impress is backrower Max Deegan, who is hoping the next month can light the fuse on what he hopes is a big season for himself. Following tonight’s game at Parc y Scarlets, Deegan will link up with the Ireland squad ahead of the Ireland A fixture against a New Zealand XV at the RDS next Friday. 

On the back of a strong tour with Emerging Ireland, it’s a good start for now, but the 26-year-old has set his ambitions even higher. Deegan has been capped once by Ireland at Test level, featuring against Wales during the 2020 Six Nations before an ACL injury suffered later that year stalled his progress. That’s the stage he wants to get back on.

Some players like to bat away talk of next year’s World Cup in France, but Deegan admits thoughts of playing his way into Farrell’s squad for the big dance are simmering away at the back of his mind.

“It’s there, it can’t not be,” he says.

But I’m not going to be anywhere near it if I’m not playing well here at Leinster. That’s by far the most important thing. If I go well here and get my chance and take it, then I have a shot at whatever comes with that. I’m feeling really good and confident and going to Scarlets as a really experienced player to deliver a performance.

“Hopefully I can go well this weekend and get a chance in the RDS (against New Zealand XV) which would be cool. It’s really exciting even if completely different, I’ve never played a New Zealand team professionally.

“There is some momentum but I won’t get too carried away, focus on Scarlets first and put in a big performance again this week. Not looking at the big picture, just consistency, consistency and consistency. Putting in good performances.”

His attitude is emboldened by positive conversations with Ireland assistant coach Paul O’Connell, who Deegan worked with for the first time on the Emerging Ireland tour.

max-deegan Steve Haag / INPHO Deegan impressed on the Emerging Ireland tour. Steve Haag / INPHO / INPHO

“He was really good on lineout and leadership,” Deegan continues.

“It gave me really good confidence coming back in here. It had been a while since I’d been in a set-up like that. It went well. The lads were a great bunch and I really enjoyed it.

“He [O'Connell] talks a lot about staying connected.

He’s obviously in the lineout but he was talking about phase shape and stuff like that. He would talk about a person with my speed and athleticism needing to be connected. So that when there is a chance with the ball out the back, and there’s a small hole there, that you’re ready to accelerate into that hole. Not kind of being half in, half connected. That was something he was big on pushing and with me too.”

Despite Cullen ringing the changes this week, Deegan – who moves across the backrow from six to number eight – still forms part of a strong Leinster pack with includes in-form summer signing Jason Jenkins, and the returning Rhys Ruddock, who captains the side.

Academy players Chris Cosgrave and Rob Russell are included in a new-look back three, while, Tadgh McElroy and academy pair Charlie Tector and Ben Brownlee could all make their debuts off the bench.

And while Leinster are flying high at the top of the URC table with six wins from six, Scarlets could do with a lift ahead of the November international break. The Welsh side’s defeat of Zebre on 15 October is their only win from their last eight URC outings. They currently sit second-bottom in the table and have lost their last six fixtures against Irish provinces.

“There are a lot of (Leinster) players that we have seen on the training field, who have got glimpses of chances in the last six games and they are now buzzing to get going,” Deegan adds.

“And we’re excited to see them, a few lads potentially making their debuts which is unreal. To be part of that, and hopefully be part of a great win over there would be really special. I can’t wait for it. We all get on really well here so it doesn’t really matter who steps in, it’s that kind of group of brothers, no matter who is in the team or who we play.”

SCARLETS: Johnny McNicholl; Tom Rogers, Steff Evans, Jonathan Davies (captain), Ryan Conbeer; Dan Jones, Gareth Davies; Steff Thomas, Daf Hughes, Harri O’Connor; Jac Price, Tom Price; Aaron Shingler, Dan Thomas, Sione Kalamafoni.

Replacements: Shaun Evans, Kemsley Mathias, WillGriff John, Morgan Jones, Iwan Shenton, Archie Hughes, Rhys Patchell, Corey Baldwin.

LEINSTER: Chris Cosgrave; Rob Russell, Liam Turner, Charlie Ngatai, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Ed Byrne, John McKee, Thomas Clarkson; Ross Molony, Jason Jenkins; Rhys Ruddock (captain), Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Replacements: Tadgh McElroy, Michael Milne, Vakhtang Abdaladze, Brian Deeny, Martin Moloney, Nick McCarthy, Charlie Tector, Ben Brownlee.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)

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