Monday 27 January 2020

Deegan confident he will push on and make Ireland breakthrough

Leinster 41 Zebre 6

Two tries: Max Deegan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Two tries: Max Deegan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Such is the rate at which Ireland are churning out exciting young talents that when one of them gets nominated for a World Rugby player of the year award, you almost expect him to make the step up to the senior side as quickly as the likes of James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale have done.

Yet it hasn't quite worked out like that just yet for Max Deegan, who has had to bide his time in the logjam of back-rows that ply their trade at Leinster.

It says a lot about how highly he is regarded within the province that Leinster were happy enough to allow a player of Jordi Murphy's calibre join Ulster next season.

The coaching staff have a huge amount of faith in Deegan's ability and his Man of the Match performance in the facile win over Zebre on Saturday, in which he scored two tries, further enhanced his reputation.

The 21-year old was outstanding for Ireland's U-20s as they beat the All Blacks en route to a historic first World Cup final, and was duly shortlisted for Player of the Pear.

Since that 2016 campaign, it has been a case of steady progress for Deegan, but against Saracens he took a big step up the ladder when he made his European debut.

Leinster's Barry Daly in action against Zebre's Marcello Violi. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Leinster's Barry Daly in action against Zebre's Marcello Violi. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

"Max is getting better all the time," Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said.

"Max is a serious talent and he's got a lot of exposure this season. It's just making sure that he is taking those positive steps all of the time.

"He's just a really good footballer. He's very, very good on the ball. He took his tries well. He's a threat like that. He's got a very good skill set."

It was Deegan's score just after the break that set Leinster on their way to a seven-try demolition of Zebre.

Leinster's Bryan Byrne scores his side's sixth try. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Leinster's Bryan Byrne scores his side's sixth try. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Just like Conor Murray a week earlier against Toulon, Deegan showed a great awareness of the laws as he snuck around the back of a ruck, picked up the ball that the referee had deemed to be out, before running clear to score.

"I could see that it was clearly out and then I kinda said it to the ref," Deegan explained.

"Trying to get him to be like 'you're allowed go' but he just gave a small nod. So I knew it was alright."

Watching his fellow former U-20s team-mates winning a Grand Slam proves that the gap to the next level is very much scalable, and he is confident enough in his own ability to know that his day will come too.

"I'm not getting too frustrated or anything with that," he admitted.

"When the time is right, I will push on, make that breakthrough. I wasn't rushing anything.

"I wouldn't say I am too far away. I think I'm definitely progressing on last season and then into this season. I'm just trying to finish this season out as best I can and push on then into next year.

"I talk to them (U-20s team) all the time. I would be best mates with James (Ryan). I see them on TV and I love watching them. They are doing incredibly well and it drives me more to push on to that level."

If Deegan maintains this level of consistency, it will be interesting to see if Joe Schmidt will be tempted to bring him on the summer tour to Australia.

There will be plenty of opportunities to impress the Ireland head coach before then, and the Kiwi will have liked what he saw from Deegan against Zebre.

James Lowe also helped himself to a brace of tries, which took his tally for the season to nine, while Rory O'Loughlin, Bryan Byrne and Vakh Abdaladze - with his first try for Leinster - also registered.

Zebre lacked any meaningful ambition, which was summed up by Carlo Canna opting to take three points at 17-3 down early in the second-half, rather than going for the corner.

As well as that, Michael Bradley named four props and a hooker among his replacements, which in itself spoke volumes for their approach.

"We talked about the mental challenge, making sure we deliver on that 'Leinster standard', so we focused on that in the lead up to the game, and there were some good bits, but again, some bits that were not grade A performance," Cullen maintained.

With Treviso coming to Dublin this weekend, Leinster will look to take another big step towards ensuring that their Guinness PRO14 semi-final will be played at the RDS.

Gavin Mullin, son of former Ireland and Lions centre, Brendan, became the 53rd player that Leinster have used this season as he was handed his professional debut.

"We're always trying to make the RDS a fortress," Deegan added.

"With the supporters every week, we're trying to make this place as good as any to come to week in, week out. We're trying to continue that for the rest of the season.

"With the calibre of players and coaches around, it is a fantastic environment to be in.

"I'm really enjoying every training session, every week, enjoying learning and growing as a player."

Leinster - B Daly (C Frawley 44-49); A Byrne, R O'Loughlin (G Mullin 66), C O'Brien (C Frawley 66), J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park (N McCarthy 61); C Healy (P Dooley 54), J Tracy (B Byrne 54), T Furlong (V Abdaladze 54); D Toner (capt) (R Molony 62), M Kearney; Josh Murphy, D Leavy (P Timmins 62), M Deegan.

Zebre - M Minozzi; G Di Guilio, G Bisegni, F Afamasaga, M Bellini; C Canna (S Bordoli 64), M Violi (G Palazzani 62); A Lo votti (C Ah-Nau 64), O Fabiani (L Luus 27), D Chistolini (R Tenga 54); L Krumov, G Biagi (capt) (E Bello 59); V Bernabo, J Sarto, D Sisi.

REF - I Davies (Wales)

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