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Dundon: Leinster career a dream come true

FROM a six-month holiday to a 10-year stay is a quantum leap in anyone's terms.

But for Leinster hooker Aaron Dundon, it's a sign of the progress that he has made that when you ask him about how he spent a week off, he tells you the timing wasn't ideal, as he was in a rich vein of form.

Progress. When Dundon first touched down on Irish soil it was a speculative stay. Visit family either side of the Atlantic. See a bit of the world. Maybe play a bit of rugby. But that was the extent of his ambitions.

But then came a chance invitation to Seapoint Rugby Club and the rest is history. The affable New Zealander picks up the story: "Back in 2003, I was at a stage in my life where I wanted to see a bit of the world. I had brothers living in Canada and London and, if possible, I wanted to play rugby in another country and to sample a new lifestyle.

"By the time I arrived in Ireland I was keen to get back playing and Seapoint was my first port of call. They were a junior team with big ambitions at the time and I loved it there.

"We won the league twice but every year we struggled to get out of the round robin. But they're a great club who have continued to progress in recent times and I still have a lot of good friends there and I try to get down a bit.

"When the opportunity came to play with Clontarf, who were in the top division of the AIL, it was too good a chance to turn down. I played under Bernard Jackman and Andy Wood, who were big influences for me and, as it turned out, it also led to the start of a professional career.

"I had been playing well there and (Leinster manager) Guy Easterby invited me to come in and meet Joe (Schmidt). It was quite nerve-wracking at the time, I remember. I walked into Joe's office and (scrum coach) Greg Feek was there too, but they were very welcoming and invited me to come in for a trial. And thankfully I have been here since.

"To play for a side like Leinster is a dream come true. When I first arrived in Ireland I didn't know what my future in the game held, but it goes to show what can happen when you keep the head down and work hard. Opportunities do come around."

Educated at Wellington College, whose alumni include former All Black prop Neemia Tialata and ex-Ospreys back-row Filo Tiatia, Dundon honed his skills in the schools system, so it was no surprise he has retained links with the underage game in Ireland.

In recent times he coached Newbridge College to the semi-finals of this year's Powerade Schools Senior Cup and the 30-year-old admits to relishing the role outside of his professional commitments with Leinster.

"It has been a real pleasure to work with Newbridge over the last few years and it's great to see such enthusiastic boys develop their love of the game," he said.

"Before I joined I didn't realise how strong the traditions of the game are in the school, but over the years they've produced the likes of Jamie Heaslip, Phil Lawlor, Geordan Murphy and Mick Quinn, who have gone on to gain full international honours.

"And I wouldn't be surprised if one or two of the current crop don't push on through to the Academy set-up with Leinster over the next few years."

And with the school's run this year, he is anticipating a tough final between Blackrock College and St Michael's College (who edged out the Kildare school) in the RDS on Monday afternoon.

"It will be physical," Dundon predicted, "and when you look at both sides there's very little between them. Michael's are the defending champions and a lot of their current panel know what it takes to win a final in the RDS, while Blackrock have the tradition and the history behind them.

"They're Holy Ghost sister schools too, which will add a bit of spice because there's great rivalry and respect there. It's too close to call but it should be a great game."

Speaking of which, his own form has improved steadily this year. In the absence of the injured Richardt Strauss and with Sean Cronin's unavailability because of international commitments, he has shone. In the recent bonus-point victory over The Scarlets he was even named man of the match.

"That was a nice personal honour," he admits. "But when we looked back over the footage of the game what was most impressive was that it was a really good team effort in difficult circumstances with so many players away.

"There were three or four other players who could have won the award and I was fortunate enough to do so. It's not often that front-row forwards get kudos, but I was rapt to get that and, most importantly, we got five points."

His growing role in the squad was asserted earlier this week when he was asked to lead a young Leinster 'A' team against a Munster side in a friendly match in Limerick. With 10 senior appearances under his belt so far this season, he feels he is beginning to make his mark.

"You know, that's all you can hope to do in a panel of players as competitive as what we have here," he says. "Straussy and Nugget (Cronin) are quality international players, so from my point of view it's up to me and others like me in the team to keep learning and keep pushing them.

"And we're coming into the business-end of the season now on a few fronts, so we're all going to be pushing each other. It's back to week-by-week games and that's what I love. After a few good wins, we want to keep going forward."