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Four of the most dynamic hookers in the world set for battle in Dublin tomorrow

Rónan Kelleher is full of praise for Toulouse pair Julien Marchand and Peato Mauvaka.

Rónan Kelleher carries for Leinster.
Rónan Kelleher carries for Leinster.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT WAS BACK in February at Stade de France that Dan Sheehan made his name on a more global stage as he replaced the injured Rónan Kelleher in the first half of Ireland’s defeat to les Bleus.

Within minutes, it was clear that Sheehan had the dynamism and aggression to be a force even against what many people view as the best team in world rugby at present.

We already knew at that stage that Kelleher was of that ilk, having seen him grasp first-choice status for Ireland the previous autumn and helping them to beat the All Blacks.

And yet, while Irish eyes naturally focused more on the men in green at Stade de France, the Leinster duo of Kelleher and Sheehan were lining up against two of the best hookers around: Toulouse pair Julien Marchand and Peato Mauvaka.

Marchand has a strong claim as the leading hooker in the sport and has been a key part of France’s successes. His physical density, set-piece solidity, ball-carrying power, tackling quality, and jackal threat are all key attributes.

And then France have the luxury of sending Mauvaka into the fray off the bench for Marchand in the second half to bring his mobility, footwork, explosive power, and more breakdown danger for the opposition.

peato-mauvaka-celebrates-after-the-game Mauvaka is mobile and powerful. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

That combination is even more effective at club level with Toulouse, as Munster had underlined to them last weekend and as Leinster are well aware coming into tomorrow’s Champions Cup semi-final in Dublin.

“They’re both quality operators,” says Leinster’s Kelleher. “We’ve seen that over the last two or three years, they’ve both excelled. It’s similar to here in that it is such a competitive position.

“They’re both incredible ball-carriers, good in defence and good in their poach so they are kind of all-rounders. It’s just about making sure that we are on top of our detail and able to negate them and take the game to them.”

Marchand and Mauvaka are clearly driving each other to higher levels as they battle for the starting berth for club and country. It’s very similar to the scenario at Leinster, with Sheehan having previously said the competition with Kelleher makes him a better player.

“He hit the nail on the head there in that we are both just trying to drive each other on,” agrees Kelleher. “It’s such a competitive group and we are always relying on each other and sharing information.

“JT [James Tracy] and Nugget [Sean Cronin] are helping with that as well and then myself and Dan are obviously feeding off each other and just pushing each other to work hard. There’s a healthy, competitive relationship there and it’s only driving us on to be better.”

A massive part of any hooker’s job is the set-piece and Leinster had some frustrations with their scrum and maul efforts last weekend during their quarter-final win over Leicester.

dan-sheehan-arrives-for-training Sheehan works well with Kelleher in Leinster. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

While Josh van der Flier powered over from close-range in the first half soon before the forwards overwhelmed Leicester in the build-up to Robbie Henshaw’s try, the Leinster pack also conceded five scrum penalties and saw the Tigers gain major momentum at the maul in the second half.

“It was a really good challenge,” says Kelleher of the scrum.

“Obviously, we were up against experienced operators in Cole, Montoya, and Genge, they’re all very good scrummagers. But to be honest we were happy with how the scrum went.

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“First half went well and then in the second half they came out with a different plan really and they executed it. We just needed to problem-solve and I felt like we did that.

“You could argue over a couple of 50/50 calls but for the most part, it went pretty well. It was just a good contest, really.”

Leinster are expecting the same again tomorrow from Toulouse.

“We have been looking at them and they’re a class outfit,” says Kelleher. “They showed it last year when they won the double, but also a lot of their boys were in the Grand Slam-winning team for France so they’ve shown what they can do.

“We obviously need to be switched on this weekend.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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