Leinster’s academy is one of the most heralded in world rugby, as every year they seem to churn out outrageously talented, skilful young players who make the transition to the senior side with ease, and ultimately end up playing for Ireland.
Take Garry Ringrose and Joey Carberry as the latest examples of this.
However, there is one part of the Leinster assembly line that appears to be in overdrive and that is the back-row producing department.
Leinster are awash with loose forwards at the moment, so much so that they allowed Dominic Ryan, who was capped by Ireland, move to Leicester last season.
Even counting for the loss of Ryan, there are six back rowers on the eastern province’s books that have earned international caps (Jordi Murphy, Jack Conan, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O Brien, Rhys Ruddock and Josh Van Der Flier) as well as the electric 20-year-old Max Deegan, as well as the versatile Mick Kearney and Peadar Timmins.
Perhaps the greatest measure of their strength in this department is the fact that Aussie import Scott Fardy who can play both as a lock or a back row will be used exclusively as a second row due to the overcrowding in the places behind him.
While it is a blessing to have so much quality cover it is something that Leinster and the IRFU need to address as rather than lose quality players to abroad they must figure out a way to keep our indigenous talent playing in and for Ireland.
Convert them to second rows
One option to accommodate the glut of back rows is to convert them to second rows.
While this is easier in theory than it is, in reality, it is something that has been done successfully in the past before, especially in Munster where both Donnacha O’Callaghan and Donnacha Ryan both started off their careers at the periphery of the scrum before being converted to locks.
This is something which would not only benefit Leinster but also Ireland, as there is a lack, established second rows in the country due to the fact Devin Toner is over 30.
Donnacha Ryan’s move to Racing 92 means his future in a green jersey is uncertain (he is also 34) while young guns Iain Henderson and Ultan Dillane both have an increasing injury profile.
Move to another province
Another option would be for IRFU performance director David Nucifora to intervene and to take the decision out of the hands of the province and move some of the players to the other provinces to bolster their squads.
This is something that has been done successfully in the past with the likes of Cian Kelleher swapping Leinster for Connacht, Sammy Arnold moving from Ulster to Munster and Rodney Ah You switching from Connacht to Ulster.
However, there have been a number of high profile cases of fully fledged internationals moving from Leinster to play abroad that are a direct result of this option not being utilised, the aforementioned Dominic Ryan being an example as well as Marty Moore’s move to Wasps and Ian Madigan trip to Bristol via Bordeaux.
Ulster and Connacht, in particular, would both benefit hugely from adopting some of their eastern brethren as Ulster’s lack of star power up front to match their electric backline is routinely blamed for their silverware drought and Connacht don’t have any established internationals in this area.
Michael Keaveny, Pundit Arena