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Dublin: 19 °C Monday 25 May, 2020

Stuesdays, lineout nerding and contact skills - Molony makes progress

The second row returns to the Leinster bench today after a frustrating injury in recent times.

IT’S BEEN A frustrating few months for Leinster lock Ross Molony.

He last played for his province 12 weeks ago, having suffered with a niggling back injury in recent times – one that looked like clearing up several times only for Molony to be ruled out of games again.

Having turned 25 this month, Molony does get the chance to finish his season on a high today having recovered to take a place on the Leinster bench for the Guinness Pro14 final against Glasgow at Celtic Park [KO 6.30pm, eir Sport/TG4/Premier Sports].

Ross Molony Molony at Celtic Park yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Before the frustration of injury, Molony was enjoying perhaps the finest season of his career, delivering consistently strong performances in the Pro14, playing three times off the bench in Europe and generally impressing in the blue jersey.

This is Molony’s fourth full season with Leinster’s senior squad and he says he has enjoyed his rugby – injury annoyance aside – more than ever, having narrowed in on ways to improve his game.

He found himself acting as the 24th man for the big occasions at the end of last season, when Leinster secured a double, and that spurred him on for this campaign. 

The feedback from Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster was that Molony needed to improve on “the contact area on both sides of the ball, having more of an impact in the tackle and when I get my hands on the ball.”

So, as pre-season kicked off, Molony sat down with contact skills coach Hugh Hogan and head of athletic performance Charlie Higgins to make a specific plan.

Those who have watched Leinster closely this season will likely have noted the much-increased physicality in Molony’s game, as his hard work has paid off.

“With Hugh, it’s pre-pitch sessions working on body height and leg drive,” says 6ft 6ins Molony. “I’m feeling more comfortable on the ball whereas previously I haven’t really got my hands on the ball enough.

“There are a few of us doing it, a group who go to Hugh on a Monday and we do footwork, then on a Tuesday after the main session, we’re working on dropping our height into contact. There’s a lot of work that goes into making a carry as good as it can be. It’s not just getting the ball and running as hard as you can.”

“Then Thursdays we’ll do bite and fight, that’s on the defensive side so you’re getting your shot in the tackle and then the fight after, your leg drive. It’s a bit of everything and I’ve found it really good”

Molony laughs when recounting how Hogan, formerly a teak-tough St Mary’s back row, is not afraid of getting stuck in himself.

Ross Molony Molony was in excellent for before his injury. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Gym-wise, Higgins has pushed Molony to do more core work – “to get that connection between lower body and upper body to be able to transition your body height” – and also provides the second row with detailed feedback the morning after every game.

“We’ve got very tactical with stats,” says Molony. “We’d have targets for ball-carrying percentages based on comparisons in world rugby or other locks in the club. So my target is 75% positive ball carries – so once you hit contact, whether it’s plus or minus gains.

“The analysis lads work incredibly hard the night of a game and the morning after, and then Charlie is nearly as happy as I am when he sees 100% on the ball-carrying or no missed tackles.”

Molony lauds Higgins’ work – as did Isa Nacewa in his time with Leinster – and highlights the fact that the Australian carries out meetings with each player in the squad every six weeks to go through things like body composition, stats on the pitch, stats in the gym, and an overall summary of where the player needs to go next.

Higgins and Hogan’s hard work has crossed over into Molony’s rucking too, which he feels has been stronger this season.

“I’ve done a lot of work again on the body height and even if it’s just once a week getting someone to hold a pad and you getting low, practising that body height and getting a sharp shoulder in, you can really feel it coming through into your game.

“It’s quite enjoyable as well sometimes, just whacking people at the breakdown.”

Another aspect of Molony’s game that has impressed is his ball-handling, as he has delivered accurate and effective tip-on passes to fellow forwards or pullback passes to backline playmakers.

The former St Michael’s second row has always felt comfortable in this area but says Stuart Lancaster has pushed this aspect of Leinster’s game forward in recent years.

Lancaster’s influence over the province since arriving in 2016 has been transformative and Molony raves about the famous ‘Stuesday’ training sessions – not limited just to Tuesdays, in truth – that he believes are a key factor in the province’s success.

“The most notable thing about Stuart is the work he does for the whole squad, as opposed to just focusing on the main 23,” says Molony. “The way our sessions are done, it’s three full teams involved.

Ross Molony Molony first captained Leinster at the age of 22. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Two teams are playing against each other at one time, while the third team is wrestling and then swapping in all the time. It’s not just focused on the matchday 15 or 23, it’s about everyone getting their hands on the ball, getting equal reps.

“Seeing young lads coming out of school and getting those sessions, they’re going to learn so much quicker. If I had that in my first year coming out of school, I know for a fact I’d be a better player today. They’re so lucky to have that experience.

“Some of our sessions have been harder than matches and if you’re getting that exposure, you’re going to be in a better place when it comes to match day.”

Lancaster is also strong in the area of leadership, explains Molony, who has captained Leinster several times, first doing so at senior level as a 22-year-old, underlining how the province rate him in this regard.

His first time captaining a team was with St Michael’s when Andy Skehan appointed him to lead the school in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup, something Molony’s father, Kevin, had done back in 1978 – also as a second row. 

But Lancaster’s encouragement in the area of leadership extends beyond just captaincy. Molony is well-regarded within the Leinster set-up as a smart lineout caller and the Englishman has pushed him to step up even more in that department. 

“I’ve met with Stuart a few times in terms of lineout calling and leadership, probably towards the end of last season. One thing Stuart said to me was that he wanted to drive the maul, that we weren’t scoring enough tries from the maul.

“The advice was probably just around if I wanted to take the next step, to own it, own the lineout, own the maul and drive the standards around it. It’s something I’ve tried to do.”

Molony is a genuine lineout nerd and listening to him describe the detail in which he watches every game of rugby – studying and noting down lineout movement and lifting and subterfuge – is educational. Needless to say, he spends plenty of hours in front of the analysis computers in Leinster’s UCD base.

Of course, there is no better mentor for Molony than his head coach, Cullen – a former second row, lineout leader and captain of the province.

“I came into the academy in 2013 and Leo had a season left as a player,” says Molony, who is studying Commerce in UCD. “I remember Girvan Dempsey set up a meeting between me and Leo when he was still a player.

Ross Molony and Jack O'Donoghue Molony alongside Jack O'Donoghue for the Ireland U20s in 2014. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I was captain of the Ireland 20s at the time. We sat down and discussed everything really – from dealing with referees on the pitch as a captain and being a second row. I found that really useful and I’ve learned so much from him as a coach.”

There are good influences for Molony everywhere in the Leinster environment, with Devin Toner another obvious one.

The 25-year-old also looks to veteran Australian Scott Fardy as a role model, particularly given how he only debuted for the Wallabies as a 29-year-old and is now playing some of the best rugby of his career at the age of 34.

Molony has ambitions to get senior Ireland caps if he can establish himself as a first-choice lock with Leinster and Fardy provides the perfect example. 

“Fards likes to talk anyway! He wouldn’t mind me saying that,” jokes Molony. “He has so much experience, he has played in a World Cup final.

“But something that’s maybe a bit more relevant for me is that he didn’t really come onto the scenes until he was a bit older, having played in Japan, didn’t play international rugby until he was in his late 20s. Something like that makes you think you can do that.

“You’re always thinking about taking the next step. My aspiration is to play for Ireland and I want to do that someday. 

“Looking at someone like Fards, you think that could be you down the road somewhere. I’m loving playing for Leinster and I’ll keep working on my game.”

Gavan Casey is joined by Ryan Bailey and Andy Dunne to look ahead to Saturday’s Pro14 final, look at whether Joey Carbery’s move has paid off and Jack Conan talks about how his body is holding up.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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