Tuesday 18 December 2018

Leinster voices out west as talent pool goes cross-country

Quinn Roux is one of a lis tof players who has moved west after time with Leinster. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Quinn Roux is one of a lis tof players who has moved west after time with Leinster. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Two years ago this week, the decision of Cian Kelleher to leave Leinster and join Connacht would usually have passed relatively unnoticed but two years ago Connacht and Leinster seemed to be moving in quite different directions.

The move was prodded - we know not how much - by the IRFU's central command, under the guise of David Nucifora, then beginning to acquire a taste for interprovincial player movement that, as we have seen lately, appeared to leave a bad taste in some folk's mouths.

Leinster were certainly spitting venom when news of Kelleher's departure publicly emerged. Context was everything.

Connacht were a month away from crowning a fairytale campaign as PRO12 champions where they would win the final playing a thrilling, expansive style of rugby that would ruthlessly despatch a side who had just four years earlier conquered Europe imparting a similar sense of swagger.

That would be Leinster.

After a Champions Cup pool exit which had seen them lose all five opening pool games, the prospects of newly-installed head coach Leo Cullen looked unpromising to say the least.

However, a far more high-profile transfer had already taken place between the clubs - Robbie Henshaw moving from west to east, much to the disappointment of the Connacht faithful - and the arrival of Stuart Lancaster would urgently accelerate the sense of renewal in Dublin.

Their first season proved transformative, if not consummated by silverware, while Connacht's title-winning defence was ultimately a damp squib, compounded by the long-drawn-out saga of Pat Lam's awkward long goodbye.

The sliding doors had been abruptly snapped shut.

Fast-forward to this season and, as Connacht again wilt in all competitions, Leinster are priming themselves for a title double.

It is fair to say that they have moved on from this minor squabble with their Lansdowne Road paymasters.

Earlier this year, aside from drafting Scott Fardy, they also secured the services of James Lowe yet wallowed in the luxury of omitting him from less than half of their European campaign.

That drubbing in Edinburgh seems like a lifetime away now, as Leinster plot to maintain their unbeaten record in the PRO14's interprovincial matches this term, even though they will send virtually a shadow side to Galway tomorrow, as they did so over Christmas when they squeaked a win.

Another season where they will field more than 50 players affords them that opportunity, but also the necessity from those on high to encourage some within to seek better prospects elsewhere.

Kelleher, who went off with a head injury in the first half last December, will miss his reunion tomorrow due to ankle trouble, so too Peter Robb, Dublin-born underage international but a Connacht Academy graduate.

However, the visitors and their supporters will still hear some familiar voices even if not all will start; quite a few have taken the road less travelled, rather than the relatively short route across the M6. Irish international lock Quinn Roux, via South Africa, is the most high-profile. Speedster Matt Healy was released by Leinster but renewed his career in the All-Ireland League with Lansdowne, as did out-half Craig Ronaldson.

Niyi Adeolokun rebounded after being released from age-grade rugby with Leinster to light it up in the league with Trinity before emerging as a local hero.

Lock Gavin Thornbury and out-half Steve Crosbie graduated from the Leinster Academy but arrived out west after heading south, where they had spent time with former Leinster defence coach Kurt McQuilkin at Wanganui, New Zealand.

Centre Tom Farrell was amongst this group but had remained rather closer to home - Bedford - before joining his former colleagues.

James Connolly is from Dublin and played Leinster Schools' rugby but spent his later youth in the Connacht Academy.

And then there is the highly-rated back-row from Gorey, Paul Boyle, captain of the Ireland U-20s last season who bounced from the Leinster sub-Academy to join Connacht's production line alongside another ex-U-20 star, Dublin-born Matthew Byrne.

The cross-country sharing can run in the family too - Sevens star and Academy player Adam Leavy is a brother of Dan!

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast in association with Laya Healthcare, 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

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport