herald

Saturday 22 September 2018

dundon gets his chance to shine in wales

With the absence of Strauss and Cronin, hooker is keen to enjoy a rare start

When you see a chance, take it. Opportunity knocks for a large number of the Leinster squad tonight as Matt O'Connor takes his men over for a challenging battle in Newport.

And for Aaron Dundon, a consistent presence in the panel so far this season, the chance to shine has been a major motivator this week as the squad bids to continue their recent good run of winning form.

The 31-year-old Wellington-born hooker has featured six times so far this season, all from the bench. So to say he is excited about a chance to start is an understatement.

With Richardt Strauss convalescing after heart surgery and with Sean Cronin's likely involvement with the Ireland squad ahead of the start of the November series next weekend against Samoa, tonight will be a real test of the squad's depth.

And for a player like Dundon, who has impressed with his consistency and workrate, it's about building on his experience and performing when the spotlight is on.

"Weeks like this one – when we're down so many numbers because of Ireland commitments and a few injuries – are the real testing point of your squad", he said ahead of tonight's game.

"Something that Matt (O'Connor) and the other coaches have often spoken about is always having pride in the shirt and never allowing our performance levels to dip, irrespective of who is selected. And that's a big focus for us as we prepare to face the Dragons, who we know are extremely difficult to beat at home.

"I've played in Rodney Parade and it's a great ground to play in. There's a lot of tradition, but the crowd are right on top of you and it can be quite vocal, to say the least. It's a good place to test yourself and for the younger boys who are coming into the panel this week it will be a step up."

Dundon knows about the ladder of professional rugby and his arrival in Ireland, a little over 10 years ago, has opened many doors.

"I initially came to Ireland for six months. And then I loved the place so much I stayed for another six months. Then another. And now it's a decade later and I'm still here. It's funny how things have worked out.

"The plan when I first moved to Ireland was to play some club rugby and I enjoyed some great seasons with Seapoint and then Clontarf. Things went well and it was around the advent of the British & Irish Cup and thankfully I got a chance to play a few 'A' games with Leinster. Now it's a few years later and it has been a dream to play for a club like Leinster."

Dundon credits a number of people who helped him in those earlier days. Amongst the players to have settled him in, he says, was interestingly his hooking rivals Richardt Strauss and Seán Cronin.

"I suppose it says a lot about the culture in the club because even though we're all gunning for the number two jersey each week, we work quite closely together and we will 100 per cent support whoever gets the nod on any given week. We're constantly pushing each other.

"It was really shocking what happened with Straussy but it's great to see him around the place and he's on the mend, which has given us all a lift. He was a really big help to me personally over the last couple of years and we're looking forward to seeing him back in a Leinster jersey."

Away from the professional side of his day job, the New Zealander has taken on a position with Newbridge College school which has given him, he says, a different impression of the sport. There will be an interesting sub-plot to the Schools Cup draw which takes place in early December, Dundon says with a grin.

"The great thing about being involved in coaching at Schools level is that there's such support for the game and enthusiasm by the players to listen and improve. You can certainly see how the job of a coach is a difficult one. You have to make tough decisions and not selecting players is incredibly tough.

SHORTER

"It's different for professionals because you could be out one week then selected the next, but for schools players, the season is shorter and it's hard because they're still developing, physically and emotionally. It can be harder for the parents to understand (selections), because at the end of the day they want the best for their children.

"It has definitely given me a fresh insight which I'm really enjoying. All of the best coaches I've worked under – and I've been fortunate to have had a number of great coaches during my career – give good, clear and honest feedback. Coaching helps to enhance your appreciation of the game and I know certainly with Leinster you can call into any of the other coaches and they will be honest and straight up. You can't ask for much more than that really.

"There are a few guys involved with schools in the current Leinster squad; Bossy (Isaac Boss) is doing a bit of work with Terenure College, Goody (Andrew Goodman) is working with Belvedere College SJ and Jack (McGrath) has started helping out a bit with his old school St Mary's College.

"Yeah, you could say the schools draw is going to be keenly watched this year!"

First there's a major hurdle to climb and as the squad gear up for the Dragons, they will do so – on the week when the clocks went back – with the intention of springing forward rather than falling back.

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