Friday 20 July 2018

Ruaidhri O'Connor: Jordan Larmour's form is impossible for Joe Schmidt to ignore but he may have to bide his time

This Christmas it was Jordan Larmour, who produced a string of sensational performances and who is now being spoken of as a potential Six Nations bolter. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
This Christmas it was Jordan Larmour, who produced a string of sensational performances and who is now being spoken of as a potential Six Nations bolter. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leo Cullen grew up alongside Brian O'Driscoll in Blackrock College and spent the vast majority of his professional rugby career alongside the greatest talent Ireland has produced.

Perhaps that has conditioned him when questions come his way about the latest 'next big thing' to spring from the Leinster player factory.

Two years ago it was Garry Ringrose who announced himself as the new star of the province - drawing an endorsement from the great man himself, who called for his inclusion in the 2016 Six Nations squad. Ringrose had to wait until November.

This Christmas it was Jordan Larmour, who produced a string of sensational performances and who is now being spoken of as a potential Six Nations bolter.

Cullen's default position has been to play down the 20-year-old's performances, but after he ran Ulster ragged on Saturday he was asked if sometimes a player just becomes impossible to put on ice when it comes to selection.

"If they go out and score a couple of tries every time you play, it definitely makes it harder not to pick him," he said with a knowing smile.

Will Larmour be included in Joe Schmidt's squad for the Championship?

Early indications suggest not.

He was, by all accounts, not included in the pre-Christmas training squad attended by his Leinster colleagues Barry Daly and Fergus McFadden and the likelier scenario is that he will be brought to Australia for the three-Test tour during the summer to take the next step.

However, Larmour's form is fast becoming impossible to ignore for Schmidt, who is a known admirer of the former underage hockey international.

Throughout 2017 the head coach had an eye on the 2019 World Cup - capping 21-year-olds Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale ahead of schedule in June and handing them additional experience in the autumn.

The Six Nations is no place for experimentation and Larmour has had no time in camp apart from his visits as an U-20 in 2016.

Ireland want to win the tournament back, breaking two years of English dominance. It would be an achievement in its own right, but also a statement 18 months out from Japan.

Rob Kearney is a shoo-in for full-back, while Ireland's starting wings for the tournament are expected to be Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale - despite Saturday's poor display. Andrew Conway did well in November at wing and full-back and is in good form.

Darren Sweetnam and Adam Byrne were also involved to good effect. McFadden is an experienced Schmidt campaigner who is tearing up trees himself, while Daly was name-checked in the aftermath of the Six Nations.

Schmidt is also curious to see if Robbie Henshaw could do a job at full-back as he considers his best centre partnership - although Ringrose's ankle may simplify that equation.

Is it a leap to think that Larmour could jump from dominating interprovincial games to the Test arena?

Perhaps he needs to start and star in Leinster's concluding European games to prove that the leap is not too much to make.

Physically he looks ready, but the sight of him struggling with cramp at the end of the win over Ulster may suggest to the coaches that there is work to be done.

There's little wrong with his attacking game; he was unlucky not to score a hat-trick at the RDS on Saturday and played a part in two other tries.

His defence remains a work in progress and there were moments in Thomond Park when he was caught, but the upsides far outweigh the negatives.

Schmidt will pick him, it is a question of when. If he carries his interpro form into Europe his case will be even more compelling, but Leinster's options in the back-three mean the young gun may be squeezed out - particularly against the big beasts of Montpellier away.

Schmidt has been able to resist the claims of a young starlet before, but with the World Cup in mind the case for his inclusion in the wider squad is hard to ignore.

He may benefit from Guinness PRO14 games during the Six Nations, but the experience of working with the Ireland coach for two months would stand to him more.

With every magic moment, he becomes a man for the present rather than the future.

Irish Independent

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