Monday 23 April 2018

The Jordan Larmour phenomenon: The explosive rise of former hockey international to Six Nations candidate

Jordan Larmour of Leinster celebrates after scoring against Ulster
Jordan Larmour of Leinster celebrates after scoring against Ulster
Jordan Larmour has made a huge impact this season for Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Two years ago, St Andrew's College's director of rugby David Boyd invited Felix Jones around to his old school to put the Senior Cup team through their paces.

The school's major success story in the professional era, Jones had recently been forced to retire from the game due to injury but was already beginning to show signs of becoming a promising coach.

Home for Christmas, the former full-back had no hesitation in agreeing to come by and take a session ahead of the 2016 Leinster Schools Senior Cup.

Known as the hardest trainer in the Munster dressing-room until he could train no more, Jones didn't spare the school-boys, demanding professional standards.

The Cup was coming and this was where they needed to be.

"Felix was a hard task-master, very intense," Boyd recalls. "As you can imagine in a normal group of people, some people couldn't hack it. But Jordan just loved it. He wanted more."

This Christmas, Jones was back in Limerick on St Stephen's Day to see the boy he had coached become a man in front of his eyes.

In rugby circles the name Jordan Larmour had been on the radar for some time, but on December 26, he announced himself to the wider world.

With the Munster assistant coach watching on from the stand and with the game in the balance, the 20-year-old full-back fielded a high kick from Ian Keatley in the 69th minute.

With his team 27-19 up but under pressure, most players would have returned the favour and looked to get a good, solid chasing line but the thought never occurred to the youngster who veered left to interest Sam Arnold before viciously sidestepping right to avoid the centre's tackle.

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Simon Zebo fails to prevent Jordan Larmour from scoring his stunning try in Leinster’s victory over Munster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rory Scannell was on hand to stop him, but as he committed to the tackle Larmour hit the step button again and left the Ireland international for dead.

Up in the home coaching box, the alarm bells were going off as Larmour ghosted past Conor Murray and raced into the Munster half where Keatley was left with a one-on-one tackle to make.

With a feint right and another sidestep left another Ireland international was left for dead and Munster's only hope was the covering figure of Simon Zebo who had the angle but couldn't prevent the full-back shifting possession from his right to left hand allowing him to fend off the Racing 92-bound star's tackle just enough to get the ball down.

All told, it took 15 seconds for Larmour to put his name in lights. Within minutes the clip was beaming across the rugby world - a star was born.

In St Andrew's, they knew they had something special on their hands from an early age.

Now, the world is catching up.

Of course, Joe Schmidt was well aware of his talents long before he was dominating interprovincial games against Ulster and Munster.

In April 2016, Boyd was tasked with putting together a Blackrock College President's XV to face a touring team from the prestigious Hamilton Boys High School from New Zealand who were touring Ireland and Wales.

With the Leaving Cert looming, the Williamstown school asked the Stradbrook club to come up with a team and the then president turned to some familiar faces from his old team including Larmour.

Hamilton won 26-22 but it was the bundle of energy in the No 13 shirt that stood out to one interested observer.

I noticed that Johnny Sexton mentioned (this week) that the first time he heard mention of Jordan was from Joe Schmidt," Boyd said. "Joe was at the match, I think he'd played with some of the coaches who were coaching Hamilton, and he says to me after, 'That's a very tasty No 13'.

"He showed all the attributes that he's developed even more since. Straight away, Joe had him on his radar."

By that stage, Larmour had already suffered the kind of setback that would stop many promising careers in their tracks.

In October 2015, already an Ireland U-18 Schools international and a Leinster and All-Ireland champion in hockey, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and was ruled out for the season.

It is an injury that many professionals struggle to come back from, but the young Larmour knuckled down with PE teacher and strength and conditioning coach David Jones to come back stronger than he was before.

He was already on Leinster's radar and the province facilitated the best possible care at the Santry Sports Surgery Clinic.

"Jordan got stronger, he spent the year doing that and came back from injury having not lost any of the speed he originally had," Boyd recalled. "It is remarkable and it is a measure of him, he is that sort of guy,

"He relishes anything that will challenge him. He's a very good learner, level-headed and modest and that impresses Leo Cullen and Joe Schmidt."

That aptitude has caught the eye of Larmour's coaches for some time and not just on the rugby pitch.

Although its recent contribution to Irish rugby is laudable, the Booterstown institution has been better known for its hockey teams and unsurprisingly Larmour wasn't bad with a stick in his hand.

In second year, he was rubbing shoulders with the fourth years in the Ireland U-16s team, while he scored a goal in the All-Ireland senior final when still studying for his Junior Cert.

Coach Ivan Ovington knew rugby always came first for the talented youngster, but says if had wanted then the world of hockey was his oyster.

"We've a strong hockey scene here in the school, but he broke into our senior team as a third year and generally the calibre of player who's broken into the senior team in third year would be the likes of an Alan Sothern who has 100-plus caps for Ireland," he explained.

"In my opinion, Jordan is probably the most exciting forward talent to pop up in Irish hockey in the last 20 years.

"His hand-speed is phenomenal, he can eliminate players in a very, very tight space and his acceleration over five, six yards is incredible.

"The game of hockey is quite explosive, he had all of those attributes and when you talk about Jordan Larmour it's his attitude towards what he's playing as opposed to anything else that makes him such a phenomenal player.

"If Leo Cullen turned around to him in the morning and told him he was sending him down to play with the fifth team in Mullingar, he'd go, 'Great, that's fine'. He just wants to play.

"His attitude once he goes on the pitch is incredible, even as a third year he was totally unfazed by whatever we threw at him from a hockey point of view.

"Off a really small amount of training and playing, he was playing off an elite schoolboy level. He was an incredible talent."

Perhaps it was playing two years young in both codes that makes the 20-year-old so fearless at senior level. He stood out at U-20 level in a team that struggled to make a mark, before making his debut for Leinster against the Dragons and scoring a try.

Six starts and five substitute appearances later, he is the province's top try-scorer this season with six tries, while he tops the stats for metres gained, clean breaks and defenders beaten for the province in the Guinness PRO14.

If Munster found him hard to stop, Ulster couldn't contain him at all. He scored two against the northern province last weekend and it might have been five if a few things had gone his way.

That form sees him starting ahead of Rob Kearney at home to Glasgow Warriors and the clamour to select him for the Six Nations is growing ever louder.

Isa Nacewa has been around the block for so long that Larmour was seven when he made his one World Cup appearance for Fiji at the 2003 World Cup.

Tomorrow, he'll line out alongside a young man a month shy of 15 years his junior and he has full belief that he can thrive.

"He wasn't here during the successful times of Leinster's past and I think that's a good thing because he doesn't have any boundaries in the way he thinks," the Aucklander said

"He is getting out there, enjoying himself, and playing his style of rugby and he has played bloody well and we just feed off that.

He has got a really canny ability to keep his high speed when he stepping, sidestepping off either foot. You don't see that in every player so when he can do that - similar to the try scored in Munster - that's a pretty special talent to have and he showcases that on a weekly basis even in training. I have to run fast to keep up with him.

 

"When he just came on board he was an out-and-out finisher who knew how to get to the try-line, I think the coaches have done a superb job in managing him, there was that Dragons game first game of the season where he scored that try and he has just got better every week and he works hard off the field with the coaches and in the analysis room."

That work ethic is a constant theme whenever Larmour's name is mentioned and Boyd believes that his parents Ian and Anne played a big role in instilling that attitude in him.

"He was a hockey player, he's a very good golfer - a general all-round sportsman - but the thing that marks him out is that he's a nice kid, very modest but he's also very hard-working and eager to learn," he said. "He got very strong backing from his family.

"I would have to say he's had a very solid grounding from his parents, they've been very supportive and support anything the kids do.

"He has an older sister (Claudia) and a younger brother, Adam, and the parents Ian and Anne invested their time in them. They took them here, there and everywhere if they wanted to play sport."

As well as lighting up the RDS when Saturday comes, Larmour is helping to coach this season's St Andrew's senior team; spending a couple of nights a week at the school, passing on what he is learning in the professional game.

That helps keep him grounded, but when the lights come on he's ready for show-time.

"I like to back myself," he said last month.

And why wouldn't he?

 

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