The Leinster Academy is renowned the world over as a place of excellence.
It has been touted as the best in the game, better than anywhere else, even Canterbury in New Zealand.
This is a point of view that is somewhat blurred by the bias that comes with being of the eastern province – or from anywhere else in Ireland.
What can be promoted with confidence is the fact that Leinster is at the forefront of producing professional players for club and country.
There is always a probing interest in who will be the ‘next big thing’ to emerge from the production line.
Garry Ringrose (23), Joey Carbery (23), James Ryan (22), Andrew Porter (22) and Jordan Larmour (21) whet the appetite for others on the way. Here, Herald Sport highlights three young players on the path to stardom.
Leinster Academy: Year 3
2018/19: 6 caps, 4 starts
The strapping 100kg centre has pushed the experienced Noel Reid for minutes in the number 12 shirt this season.
The Mullingar man arrived into the Leinster professional system from the clubs’ branch of the organisation, which suggested a higher ceiling for development.
The third year of the academy is a
make-or-break of sorts as Leinster will monitor O’Brien’s every step in contemplation of whether he is able to take the next step – a senior contract.
The direct runner has started at both No 12 (three times) and once at No 13 since November.
The trademark ball in the left hand and powerful fend-off was on show in one magical moment down the left against Connacht.
Twenty-two-year-old O’Brien – his brother Seán is in the Connacht Academy – has worked hard on his game to earn the respect of the coaches, working closely with Felipe Contepomi.
Leinster Academy: Year 2
2018/19: 5 caps, 1 start
The Skerries man is listed as an out-half in the Leinster Academy but he has slotted into the Ireland U20s side at inside centre and that was looking like his more likely long-term position.
However, the 21-year-old has been impressive in his two starts for Leinster at out-half from where he was judged as Man of the Match against Ospreys in November.
When Hugo Keenan was compromised by a crack to his collarbone against Connacht, Frawley stepped into full-back.
It was noticeable how well he covered the ground to be in the right place, in a position with which he is not too familiar.
There was also the way Frawley shrugged off Bundee Aki’s crunching tackle just before Leinster mounted their comeback.
He will learn from the intercept-pass mistake that allowed Keith Earls to seal victory in Thomond last weekend.
The overall impression is of a cool, composed character who has a high scope for development, having come in from Leinster Clubs.
Leinster Academy: Year 1
2018/19: 2 caps, both starts
The 19-year-old openside
flanker is a throwback to the old mould of the likes of
Leicester Tigers’ and England’s Neil Back.
It says everything about the maturity of Penny that both of his caps have come from the start.
The building blocks of his game are his relentless work-rate which was on show on debut. He even completed all 80 minutes against Ospreys, just five months after leaving St Michael’s College.
Penny managed to lead the tackle count with 17, three ahead of Scott Fardy, with just four players reaching double-digits.
He has also poached two tries from his two caps to go with eight in six matches in the Celtic Cup.
Apparently, his mindset is similar to James Ryan’s in that he will wring every drop of potential from his talent.
It will be very interesting to see how Penny operates for the Ireland U20s through the Six Nations and World Cup, as long as he is released by Leinster.
Seconds away, round three. After two enthralling sequences of inter-provincial games, the final round of clashes take place this weekend but, as may well become apparent by selections during the week, the prospect of European fare will loom large for the three sides who will jostle for knockout berths later this month.