Wednesday 19 December 2018

Revealed: Minute-by-minute season breakdown highlights how young guns are driving Leinster to the top

3 December 2018; Head coach Leo Cullen, left, and senior coach Stuart Lancaster during Leinster Rugby squad training at Energia Park in Donnybrook, Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
3 December 2018; Head coach Leo Cullen, left, and senior coach Stuart Lancaster during Leinster Rugby squad training at Energia Park in Donnybrook, Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Des Berry

Scott Fardy, James Lowe and Robbie Henshaw are Leinster’s 500-minute men halfway through the PRO14 League regular season and two rounds of the Champions Cup.

Leo Cullen has already given game time to 51 players, including 43 of the 44-strong senior squad – flanker Will Connors is working back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear – and eight members of the vaunted Academy.

When the players used are broken down into various sub-units, it is interesting to note how 57pc of Leinster’s players, or 29 out of the 51, are 25 years of age and under.

If nothing else, it shows how professional rugby is increasingly becoming a young man’s game.

In comparison, the exclusive club of just nine players over 30 years of age make up 18pc of those involved. 

From those, it remains something of a major surprise that Cian Healy is playing as well as the loose-head ever has for Leinster and Ireland.

It wasn’t that long ago his career was written off when a neck injury caused numbness in his hand serious enough that he was unable to grip a pen properly.

Wing Fergus McFadden and loose forward Seán O’Brien are out with a serious hamstring tear and a fractured forearm, respectively.

In fairness, O’Brien was gradually getting back to form this season until the freak fracture caused an operation and estimated eight-week rehabilitation.      

Wallaby Fardy is not only the oldest player in the club, but also the one with the most minutes played.  

The indestructible Devin Toner is next best and Jonathan Sexton has shrugged off fitness issues in recent years to find the fitness and subsequent form that earned the World Player of the Year for 2018. 

Leinster’s youth movement has already convinced Nick McCarthy, just 23, that his career would better flourish in Munster next season.

This could have something to do with the potential of Academy scrum-halfs Hugh O’Sullivan and Patrick Patterson, both 20. 

There are no less than seven regular Ireland internationals in this group, led by centres Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose and second row James Ryan as well as flankers Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy and 2018 World Rugby Breakout Player of the Year nominee Jordan Larmour.

In the last two weeks, Leo Cullen has rested almost all of his November internationals, sending out Fardy to lead a host of eager young cubs.

The combined outcome accrued a whopping 111 points scored and a paltry 17 conceded.

It was achieved with 10 starters aged 24 or younger against The Ospreys with five of the replacements 22 years old, or younger, with Scott Penny, just 19, making his debut to last all of the 80 minutes.

Last Saturday, coach Cullen made five changes for the Dragons for 10 starters of 25, or under, and six replacements with the same age profile.

This crew included a first start for Jimmy O’Brien, 22, and Patterson, from the bench, with little or no discernible drop in their incredibly high standards.

In fact, the simple change of venue from the comfort of home to the cold of Newport indicated an improvement in performance. 

It was a salient lesson for the experienced Dave Kearney, a man not without hope of making it to the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

"A lot of the young guys stepped up," said the 29-year-old about putting out the Dragons’ fire in Rodney Parade.

"We had quite a young squad heading over here. It’s really pleasing to see all the young lads step up coming over here for a tough game."

This has come about from people on the ground, paid and voluntary, discovering and developing young talent.  

"Our Academy structure over the last five to 10 years has been really strong.

"All the young lads are putting all the senior players and everyone in the squad under pressure.

"I think to be the best team in Europe you need to have the strongest squad with strength and depth across the board, which we do.

"All the young guys that are coming through are contributing to that."

For the moment, the left wing will be pushed to his limit just to make it to the starting line for Leinster’s Champions Cup match in Bath.

MINUTE BY MINUTE: HOW THEY COMPARE

TOTAL PLAYERS USED: 51

SENIOR SQUAD: 43

ACADEMY SQUAD: 8

AGE GROUPS

31+: 9

26-30: 13

21-25: 25

18-20: 4

500-MINUTE MEN

Scott Fardy: 578 mins

James Lowe: 548 mins

Robbie Henshaw: 534 mins

31-PLUS AGE GROUP

Scott Fardy: 34 years; 9 caps; 578 mins.

Devin Toner: 32 years; 6 caps; 459 mins.

Jonathan Sexton: 33 years; 5 caps; 356 mins

Sean Cronin: 32 years; 7 caps; 356 mins.

Rob Kearney: 32 years; 5 caps; 340 mins.

Michael Bent: 32 years; 6 caps; 325 mins.

Cian Healy: 31 years; 6 caps; 316 mins.

Fergus McFadden: 32 years; 4 caps; 306 mins

Sean O’Brien: 31 years; 5 caps; 263 mins.

26-30 AGE GROUP

James Lowe: 26 years; 7 caps; 548 mins.

James Tracy: 27 years; 11 caps; 473 mins.

Jack Conan: 26 years; 6 caps; 440 mins.

Jamison Gibson-Park: 26; 8 caps; 432 mins.

Rhys Ruddock: 28; 7 caps; 431 mins.

Joe Tomane: 28 years; 9 caps; 419 mins.

Tadhg Furlong: 26; 7 caps; 333 mins.

Dave Kearney: 29; 5 caps; 302 mins. 

Noel Reid: 28 years; 6 caps; 214 mins. 

Jack McGrath: 29 years; 4 caps; 157 mins.

Mick Kearney: 27 years; 7 caps; 145 mins.

Ian Nagle: 30 years; 1 cap; 71 mins.

Barry Daly: 26 years; 1 cap; 9 mins.

21-25 AGE GROUP

Robbie Henshaw: 25; 7 caps; 534 mins.

Jordan Larmour: 21; 6 caps; 466 mins.

Adam Byrne: 24; 5 caps; 400 mins.

Garry Ringrose: 23; 5 caps; 400 mins.

James Ryan: 22; 6 caps; 394 mins.  

Ross Byrne: 23; 8 caps; 385 mins.

Luke McGrath: 25; 7 caps; 383 mins.

Max Deegan: 22; 8 caps; 359 mins.

Rory O’Loughlin: 24; 6 caps; 350 mins.

Ross Molony: 24 years; 7 caps; 341 mins.

Josh van der Flier: 25 years; 6 caps; 332 mins.

Josh Murphy: 23 years; 5 caps; 286 mins.

Ed Byrne: 25 years; 7 caps; 271 mins.

Andrew Porter: 22; 9 caps; 271 mins.

Conor O’Brien (A): 22; 4 caps; 257 mins.

Dan Leavy: 24; 4 caps; 245 mins.

Peter Dooley: 24; 7 caps; 216 mins.

Hugo Keenan (A): 22; 2 caps; 160 mins.

Bryan Byrne: 25; 6 caps; 157 mins.

Ciaran Frawley (A): 21; 3 caps; 132 mins    

Jimmy O’Brien (A): 22; 2 caps; 97 mins.

Nick McCarthy: 23; 4 caps; 72 mins.

Tom Daly: 25; 2 caps; 67 mins.

Vakh Abdaladze: 22; 6 caps; 31 mins.

Jack Kelly (A): 21, 1 cap, 12 mins.

18-20 AGE GROUP

Caelan Doris: 20 years; 5 caps; 277 mins.

Scott Penny (A): 19; 2 caps, 143 mins. 

Hugh O’Sullivan (A): 20; 4 caps; 67 mins.

Patrick Patterson (A): 20; 1 cap; 12 mins.

*A = Academy

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.

Listen and subscribe to The Left Wing on iTunes and Soundcloud

Herald Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport