Wednesday 11 December 2019

Ronan Kelleher to take big step towards coveted Ireland debut

Rónan Kelleher
Rónan Kelleher

Des Berry

The way has been cleared for Ronan Kelleher to take the next step towards that coveted Ireland debut.

The graduating process will continue this week with the 21-year-old hooker in line to start his first Champions Cup match.

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The 'player-first' approach of Leinster means Sean Cronin is not quite ready to resume full-contact training this week.

There will be a re-introduction to light skill work before stepping up his programme.

The Ireland front row forward suffered a neck injury at the World Cup and has not played since coming on against Russia at the beginning of October.

The veteran hooker will not be rushed back and coach Leo Cullen does have the luxury of relying on Kelleher, James Tracy and Bryan Byrne.

There are fewer new faces coming into round one of Europe with a hotter resume than Kelleher, leading the try-scoring charts on six from five starts.

It is surely significant that he has started all of his caps this season, playing no more than 56 minutes and no less than 52 in what has been a carefully choreographed introduction to the starting role.

Better again, Kelleher will be somewhat familiar with Benetton given the Italians provided the first competitive opponents of the season in the PRO14 League in September.

At the moment, Tracy appears to be next in the queue, with six caps this season, just one from the start in what seems to be a clear early season hierarchy.

Robbie Henshaw was pulled from Leinster's match against Connacht after feeling unwell.

He will join in training this week along with Hugo Keenan and Ed Byrne, who suffered no ill-effects on their return from injury in Connacht.

Flanker Will Connors has entered into the return-to-play protocols after taking a knock to the head towards the end of the match in The Sportsground.

Prop Vakh Abdaladze will be out for a few weeks with a back injury.

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