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'He's a special guy' - Kendellen thriving with opportunities in Munster's back row

The 21-year-old was excellent against Toulouse two weekends ago.

Kendellen has been superb for Munster this season.
Kendellen has been superb for Munster this season.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

AMONG THE POSITIVES for Munster two weekends ago as they lost out to Toulouse in agonising fashion in the Champions Cup quarter-finals was the performance of back row Alex Kendellen.

It was the latest in a string of standout displays by the 21-year-old flanker, who was captaining the Ireland U20s as recently as last summer.

Cork man Kendellen has quickly got to grips with senior rugby this season, earning himself a full professional contract for the 2022/23 campaign as he skips the final year of the academy programme.

Kendellen was making just his second Champions Cup start against Toulouse two weekends ago but he looked like a far more experienced player in a combative, aggressive performance that featured a powerful try from five metres out.

It appears Kendellen will play a prominent role in the run-in to this season with Munster, while it’s clear that he will be a key figure for many years to come.

“Look, he’s a special guy,” says Munster head coach Johann van Graan. “I met him when he was still in the NTS [national talent squad] programme. He came in here during the lockdown time in Covid when he was a guy just coming out of school.

“He captained Ireland at U20 level, made his [Munster] debut from the bench against the Scarlets, and then he just grabbed his opportunities.

“He is a quiet guy, just wants to learn. The bigger the occasion, the better he seems to play.

“I think a big turning point for him was the two games in South Africa against the Bulls and the Lions, where he really played well and for me, made the step up to a European quarter-final, where he plays 100 minutes of European knockout rugby against a pretty awesome Toulouse pack. He started against French internationals.

“He has been exceptionally good this season and he certainly has a big future ahead of him at Munster.”

alex-kendellen-celebrates-a-penalty-with-josh-wycherley Kendellen scored a powerful try against Toulouse. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Kendellen should be involved again this weekend as Munster travel to the Aviva Stadium to take on Leinster in their final regular-season game of the URC. 

With Munster currently second in the table behind Leinster, van Graan is hopeful his side can hold onto that spot to secure a home quarter-final and possible home semi-final too.

It will be interesting to see the make-up of the back row, with captain Peter O’Mahony a doubt due to the shoulder injury he suffered against Toulouse.

“That will be determined at the back end of the week,” said van Graan of O’Mahony’s chances of featuring. He has taken a few knocks over the last few weeks. He was in training today albeit in non-contact. We’ll take our time and I’m only going to pick guys this week that are 100%.

“Obviously in three weeks’ time, there’s a guaranteed quarter-final, I have to look at the big picture again. We want Pete to play, but as the week goes if guys come through training, I’m going to pick them. If not, I’m not going to risk them this weekend.”

Number eight Gavin Coombes has returned to training from an ankle injury but van Graan is unsure whether he will be ready for the Leinster clash.

“He’s obviously a very important player for us but he literally only came back to training on Monday so I’m still not convinced that he’s going to play at the weekend.

“He did phenomenally well in the time frame that he had to get back from that injury. So, the same thing, if I feel that he’s done enough in training and he’s comfortable and his body is ready we’ll pick him. If not, I’m not going to risk him.”

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tadhg-beirne Tadhg Beirne pictured at Munster training yesterday. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

One man who will definitely miss this weekend is Munster lock Tadhg Beirne, who remains sidelined with a thigh injury he picked up on Ireland duty during the Six Nations.

While it initially appeared that the injury could be a season-ender for Beirne, the prospects of him returning for the play-offs have increased.

“All I can say about Tadhg is he’s tracking a lot better than he has the last few weeks,” said van Graan. “He’s working really hard. I don’t want to speculate on the week of a return.

“I’m confident with the way that it’s currently looking that we’ll see him again before the end of the season which is a real positive from our point of view.

“Now, we’ve got to see what happens in a quarter-final, after that who knows. But I don’t want to speculate on a week but he’s tracking really well.

“We were pretty worried about him but he’s turned the corner and he’s working really well with the medical team and I’m pretty confident that we’ll see him before the end of the season.”

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