Friday 23 February 2018

'This year there's a freshness. It's like a new start'

With new players and a new coaching set-up, centre star is enjoying his rugby and the opportunities coming his way

Noel Reid is tackled by Sam Davies of Ospreys during the last month’s Guinness Pro12 clash
Noel Reid is tackled by Sam Davies of Ospreys during the last month’s Guinness Pro12 clash

Marcus Ó Buachalla

The names of the departed are a who's who of Leinster Rugby. Ben Te'o. Ian Madigan. Marty Moore. Luke Fitzgerald. Eoin Reddan. Isaac Boss.

Some home-grown sons of Leinster. Others would become sons of Leinster over time but to a man all were ever-popular with the RDS faithful and with those that they shared a pitch with for all their years in blue.

Noel Reid going through his paces in training
Noel Reid going through his paces in training

However, having lost the Guinness Pro12 final against Connacht, the loss of these key players was seen as a significant weakness in the eyes of most observers but for others, like Noel Reid, it offered opportunity.

"I think anybody looking at that list would say Leinster will be the poorer for their departure. You can't just magic together that experience and in particular in my position in the centre with Benny, Mads and then Lukey as well retiring, I think people would have said we were quite light on cover.

"But for us in Leinster you have to see the positives in every situation or more to the point the opportunities and I think that is what has happened this season.

"The lads have been missed and are missed. You can't just replace that experience as I said and they were great lads to have around but what it has offered is opportunities for lads to stake a claim and I think the players have responded to that challenge."

Robbie Henshaw’s arrival has enhanced Leinster’s options at centre
Robbie Henshaw’s arrival has enhanced Leinster’s options at centre

The stats back up what the 26-year-old centre says.

Ben Te'o at 29 years of age was the player with the least on-field experience with 40 Leinster caps. Yet he was a Rugby League international and had won a NRL Grand Final with the Rabbitohs. Not bad for a rookie.

At the other end of the scale you had Luke Fitzgerald. A product of Blackrock College. A Grand Slam winner. Three-time Heineken Cup winner. A British & Irish Lion. And 154 caps to his name.

Not easily replaced. But opportunities.

"As I said, people would have said we were maybe light in the centre. But you have a player like Robbie (Henshaw) coming in and OK he's young but with over 20 international caps and however many games for Connacht he brought with him more experience than most 23-year-olds.


"Then you have Garry Ringrose looking to build on last season. He's been keen to kick on and improve. I suppose everyone would have known about those two but then you have Rory O'Loughlin in our Academy who has shown brilliantly well over the pre-season and now into the season. Tom Daly is another who has been going really well for his club Lansdowne and did well last weekend with the Leinster 'A's so I think it has opened people's eyes to the talent that is bubbling away here."

Modestly he leaves himself out of the equation but he is very much in the mix.

Six games in Reid has played the full 80 minutes in five of them and made several telling contributions off the bench against Munster in the Aviva Stadium last weekend.

"I'm feeling good. I think the benefit of being injury-free is huge. Just being able to put those minutes behind me. To get game time and to challenge for a jersey. Whether with Garry or with Rory in the centre, I've enjoyed myself out there and I think we have been going well. There is serious competition for places too so I think we are driving each other pretty hard."

Reid is no longer the fresh-out-of-Academy player who scored a decisive kick for St Michael's to win the Senior Cup. He is now 26 years of age, an Irish international with over 60 Leinster caps to his name. He is experienced enough now to know what's what.

"I think this year there is a freshness. I'd nearly go so far as to saying it's a new start.

"Sir Graham Henry coming in during the summer. So many lads leaving the club. New lads like Robbie, Ian Nagle and Jamison (Gibson-Park) coming in. And then obviously with Stuart Lancaster.

"It really is like a new set-up. It's hard to describe. Lads from the outside with new ideas and a new viewpoint adding to what Leo, Girv and Fogs had already been implementing. I think it's been hugely positive."

The performances and the results bear witness to that.

"With the first block of games behind us I think we can be happy with where we are at. Joint top with Ulster after five wins from six and I think it's been a case of building week by week. And yet I don't think we are there yet.

"There were elements of last weekend against Munster that were good but it leaves us with plenty to look at ahead of Castres on Saturday."

In front of media this week Devin Toner spoke about their pack and the strength of same but Reid is quick to point out that there is more to Castres than just their forwards.

"I think they are a typical French team in that they take huge pride in their pack and in their physicality but outside their front eight they have some lovely players in their backs.

"Rory Kockott is their general from nine and I think we need to keep him quiet as when he ticks, they tick. They've got David Smith, formerly with Toulon. A deadly finisher. So we can't give him an inch. So we've plenty to keep us busy and to worry about. They're a complete 15 and we'll need to be at our best."

As Reid looks forward to the game at the weekend, the conversation drifts towards one of the departed. His midfield compatriot and flatmate, Ben Te'o.


"He's getting on well. I'd keep in touch with him but we haven't met up since he left. He was on tour with England and then into pre-season with Worcester but we've a few weekends off in the next while and the plan would be to meet up. He was a good lad, popular around the place and you'd wish him well.

"He has new goals and priorities this season. Obviously he hopes to get that first cap under his belt and then look to kick on with Worcester. He needs to get used to his new way of life as well. He's gone from being in the heart of it in Dublin to living in the country… very different!"

For Reid, the weeks and months ahead offer further opportunities to chase his own goals.

"I'm enjoying my rugby. The body feels good and hopefully I can stay injury-free. We all believe that we are building something here and I just want to be a part of as much of that as I can."

Irish Independent

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