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Kilkenny man Lydon and Ealing bid to deny Leinster's first trophy chance today

The former Stade Français fullback has enjoyed his first season with the Championship club.

LEINSTER WILL BE hopeful of having secured a trophy before the Champions Cup final even kicks-off later today.

The province’s A side is in action at 2pm in the British and Irish Cup decider [streamed live on Leinster's Facebook page], but standing in their way is an ambitious Ealing Trailfinders squad that includes some Irish influence.

Former Connacht out-half Shane O’Leary starts at 10 for Ealing at their home ground, Vallis Way, while Kilkenny man Peter Lydon will get the chance to play against his home province if he comes off the bench.

Peter Lydon Lydon during his time with Stade Français in 2014. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

25-year-old Lydon was naturally frustrated not to be in the starting team for what is one of the biggest games in Ealing’s history, but he has enjoyed his first season with the club since joining from fellow Championship outfit London Scottish last summer.

West London club Ealing pushed heavy promotion favourites Bristol further than most expected in England’s second-tier league, delaying the inevitable for Pat Lam’s side, while their journey to today’s B&I Cup final has been impressive too.

Standing between them and their first notable trophy as a club are Leinster, keen to regain a title they last secured in 2014.

“It’ll be nice going up against a lot of boys I know from schools rugby,” says Lydon of facing Leinster. “It will be an interesting one and one we will hopefully be confident of winning. At the same time, we know Leinster are a quality team.

“Myself and the other Irish lads are trying to get across to the team that it’s not a bunch of kids coming over because that’s the impression from a lot of the English boys, they kind of see the A teams from the province as a bunch of kids.

“It’s up to us to let them know Leinster will be up for a big fight.”

Silverware would be the perfect way for Ealing to end their campaign of progress, having finished up second behind Bristol in the Championship and taken some pride.

“Before the season started people were saying they’d probably have it tied up by Christmas,” explains Lydon. “We kept it going until mid-March and we felt we should have won both of the games against them.

“But in the grand scheme of things, their budget is crazy and with the players they have they should be walking the league so I think to stay with them as long as we did was a credit to us.”

While Ealing aren’t quite in Bristol’s league, they do have wealth behind them too.

Peter Lydon Lydon played for Leinster's underage teams. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Their owner is 81-year-old Mike Gooley, an ex-SAS [Special Air Service] man who owns the Trailfinders travel company and has grand ambitions for Ealing.

Their list of signings ahead of next season is lengthy, including the likes of Fiji international prop Campese Ma’afu, Rebels back row Jordy Reid, ex-Munster back Pat Howard and USA international Andrew Durutalo.

Among the group of close to 30 new recruits – more than 20 will leave, including O’Leary – are Irishmen Jack O’Connell, Ben Betts, Dave Johnston and Ryan Foley.

Even with O’Leary heading to Nottingham, it will mean Lydon and Irish back row Willie Ryan will have a good group of their compatriots around as Ealing attempt to continue their progress.

“They have basically said that next year we’re looking to be up there with London Irish as being promoted,” says Lydon. “There is the whole thing with potentially having the closed door to the Premiership but from the club’s point of view, they’re getting together a squad that is going to be up there as favourites to win the whole thing.

“We’ve brought in a lot of good signings. Rather than just bringing in established players, there are a lot of younger guys who are looking to prove themselves.

“I think they’ve been clever that way, bringing in guys who are ambitious rather than guys who are coming to the end of their careers and just looking for a pay cheque.”

Gooley is an interesting character who remains a presence around Vallis Way.

“He’s into rugby and comes to all of our games,” says Lydon. “Actually, one of the reasons we play the majority of our home games on a Saturday at 3 o’clock is that he’s very traditional and wants all the home games played at that time.

“He’s got plenty of money to put into it and he’s an interesting guy. He came from the SAS and has been in wars around the world. He’s been shot and crazy stuff like that, so he’s a nice guy to chat to.”

Peter Lydon and head coach Conor O'Shea after the game Lydon with Conor O'Shea when Stade Français played Harlequins in 2014. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Lydon, who was born in the Netherlands but moved to Ireland as a child, has played 24 times for Ealing this season and taken up an option to extend his contract for another year.

Having spent three years with London Scottish after a season with Stade Français in the Top 14, Lydon has enjoyed Ealing’s superb training facilities at Vallis Way, where they are fed breakfast and lunch, have a top-class gym, use GPS for training and games, work with a dedicated nutritionist, and train and play on the 4G pitch.

He has recently moved into a new place in Putney with his girlfriend, Holly, and is loving life in London.

He has been competing with Luke Daniels for the 15 shirt this season but in his youth and at Stade Français, Lydon played more of his rugby at out-half.

“When I first joined London Scottish in 2014, the two other 15s were injured, so I got a long run in the jersey and from then on I’ve just enjoyed it more,” explains Lydon. “Now, I’m almost exclusively 15 but I still have that ability to cover 10 and 12.

“I’m enjoying playing 15 and learning more than I used to when I first thought I was just there temporarily. I’ve embraced it and now I prefer it because you get a bit more time on the ball, get to read the game a bit more.

“It’s good to have that experience of playing 10 and 12 because they like to get me in at second receiver a lot and push the 12 or 13 out so we have a bit more of a playmaking option.”

Lydon’s place-kicking has always been a strength for him and his accuracy has improved even further this season. He ended the Championship campaign fifth on the top points scorers list with 156, made up of three tries, 25 penalties and 33 conversions.

Lydon has been working closely with kicking coach Andy Holloway, a friend of Jonny Wilkinson and who learned from Dave Alred. The results have been a more consistent strike of the ball and extra distance off the tee.

“One of the things he picked up on was my tempo going into kicks,” says Lydon. “What he wants is a steady tempo going into kicks and accelerating beyond the point of contact. He noticed that in games, probably because of adrenaline, I was getting a little bit too quick and that was making my last step into the ball too quick.

Conor McKeon with Peter Lydon Lydon came through Kilkenny College. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That was throwing off my posture because a lot of it is posture-based. A big thing I’ve been working on is trying to slow myself down subconsciously at the back of my run-up, trying to just chill and approach the ball nice and smoothly.

“That’s been the biggest thing and just the posture thing – trying to stay tall on the kick and I’ve noticed I’ve got a few extra metres of distance out of that.”

Lydon’s place-kicking quality may have a say late on in the game against Leinster today, when he hopes to earn a medal in his first season with Ealing.

His ambitions for the future haven’t dimmed either, with the green jersey of Ireland and a move home to one of Irish provinces part of the long-term project.

“That’s definitely still the goal. I’m 25 now and I’m still ambitious. If we can have a good season and progress next year, that would be the dream – whether it’s one of the provinces or getting a contract at a Premiership team. I just need to keep working.”

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