Lancaster urges Leinster young guns to step up
Come full-time in Italy this afternoon, Max Deegan will have played all across Leinster’s back-line.
Having initially burst onto the scene as a No 8, Deegan has played plenty of rugby at blindside flanker and will now pack down at openside as Leinster take on Zebre. Leo Cullen isn’t exactly flush with natural openside options and it must be said that it is admirable that Leinster have not recalled Scott Penny from the Ireland U-20s set-up and are instead allowing the supremely talented 19-year-old to develop at age-grade level.
Cullen has resisted the temptation to switch Caelan Doris, which means that Deegan, who is probably more suited to openside, will wear the number 7 jersey.
All in all, this is an ideal opportunity for all of these exciting young players to impress with the front-liners away on international duty.
Stuart Lancaster is excited by what lies ahead in the coming weeks and the Leinster senior coach is urging the likes of Deegan and Doris to stake their claim.
“It’s a great window for the younger players or the players that are just on the fringes of the Ireland team,” Lancaster said.
“You’ve got people like Ross Byrne and Jack McGrath who are hungry to prove a point. And then you’ve this whole raft of young players who should come back and put a marker down again. The likes of Max Deegan and Caelan Doris. It’s great for them.”
Byrne and McGrath will be desperate to remind Joe Schmidt of their quality as both have been left out in the cold for Ireland’s opening two Six Nations games.
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Zebre have endured another tough season and have only won three of their 14 games in the Guinness PRO14 this season as Michael Bradley continues to attempt to change the Italian club’s fortunes.
Lancaster, however, is not taking anything for granted. “They’ll be difficult to break down,” he insisted.
“They’re big, strong, physical, well-coached and they’re prepared to play out.
“We need to be at our best. We can’t just afford to just turn up there and expect to win. There’s plenty of focus on that this week and then we’ll turn the page to our two home games.” Conor O’Brien has really grasped his opportunity this season and he will look to continue his fine form in midfield alongside Rory O’Loughlin.
The likes of Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter and Scott Fardy bolster a pack that has a very young back-row in Josh Murphy, Deegan and Doris.
Leinster have won each of their previous 11 meetings with Zebre. It’s difficult to see that winning streak ending this afternoon.
Zebre – F Brummer; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, J Elliott; C Canna, J Renton; D Impelli, O Fabiani, G Zilocchi; S Ortis, G Biagi (capt); M Mbandà, J Tuivaiti, G Licata. Reps: L Luus, D Fischetti, D Chistolini, A Tauyavuca, J Brown, R Raffaele, P Balekana, N De Battista.
Leinster – D Kearney; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, C O’Brien, B Daly; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, J Tracy, A Porter; R Molony, S Fardy (capt); J Murphy, M Deegan, C Doris. Reps: B Byrne, P Dooley, M Bent, M Kearney, J Dunne, H O’Sullivan, N Reid, J O’Brien.
REF – I Davies (Wales)
Zebre v Leinster, Live, eir Sport, 2.30pm