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Monday 20 August 2018

Hagan's ready for challenge

Rising prop star keen to cut it by being razor sharp in Ross' absence

When a hulking forward talks about having the 'Fear of God' instilled in you, it's something like a sign of foreboding.

Jamie Hagan, standing at over 6'3" and weighing in around the 120kg mark, cuts a rather imposing figure.

The grizzled beard certainly adds to the sense of menace. But off the field you'll be hard pressed to meet Hagan with anything but a friendly, welcoming demeanour.

Until you talk about defeat, the result against Glasgow Warriors galling him and driving his team-mates on to make amends this week.

"There's a lot expected when you play for Leinster and we are all determined to put last weekend behind us. It just wasn't good enough ... " he trails off still clearly frustrated but determined to make amends.



prepared

"When you come in on a Monday morning you know that you have to be prepared to hear some home truths, the lessons learned from last weekend and we're determined to meet this challenge head on."

In between analytical reviews, previews, gym and on-field pitch sessions, this week Hagan also found time to join team-mates Leo Auva'a and Steven Sykes for a trip to the National Ploughing Championships in Athy.

It was a timely reiteration of the ever-growing connections between the team and the wider province.

"The thing that I've noticed the most since returning home this summer is that the support for the province, outside of the city of Dublin, has really taken off," the 24-year-old revealed.

"There are hundreds of children travelling from right across the province to our matches in the RDS and in the space of just a few years the interest has really shot up.

"The Youths system has really begun to thrive of late and the more Leinster Rugby can expand the traditional Schools system into the feeder junior and senior clubs, the healthier the game will be in the province.

"If you take players from rural communities, typically guys from farming stock, which would be the case with the likes of Seanie (O'Brien), they have the skills and the doggedness to pursue a pro career as well as the skills that may have been honed in other sports.

"I was born and raised in Balbriggan in north County Dublin and even though Gaelic games and soccer would be the main sports played out in that part of the city, rugby has really begun to take off."

References to other sports bring a smile to the Ireland 'A' prop's face and he revelled in the extraordinary feats of the Dublin footballers following last weekend's victory over Kerry.

"I think that the All-Ireland success can act as a real inspiration for everyone connected with the city.

"It was an extremely proud day to be a Dub. People might think that there's a kind of rivalry between the codes, but when you look across the Leinster squad there are a lot of rugby players who played Gaelic football growing up.

"I definitely think that some of the skills, hand-eye co-ordination and physicality that you pick up in Gaelic can stand to rugby players -- and vice versa. I know Shane Horgan played a lot of Gaelic growing up in Bellewstown, Co Meath, and it was the same for the Kearney brothers in Louth.

"There's great respect between the players in the squad and it's worth pointing out too that Kilkenny have been the standard-bearers in hurling for years.

"It's great for all of the local communities in the province when the hard work and commitment of these guys is rewarded."

It's easy to forget that he only took up the game at the age of 16, confirming that rugby can be a sport for late developers.

"To put it into context, for less than eight years he has sprung from relative obscurity to Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam honours, a plethora of caps for Connacht, Leinster and Ireland 'A' honours.



Ambitious

The nature of competition drives him on and with opportunities presenting themselves in Mike Ross' absence with Ireland, he is determined to make an impression.

"The way I see it, Rossy is the Ireland tight-head, so I know that when he comes back from the World Cup both myself and Nathan (White) will have to work really hard to get in the side. But I think that's a challenge that we're both looking forward to.

"Healthy competition is what all ambitious squads need to have and if and when you don't get into the team there's no point moping.

"If you're out of the team you congratulate your rival and you work even harder. Whitey is a quality player who has come over here having captained Waikato, so he's not going to be happy just sitting on the bench either so that will raise the standards again.

"Even though I was fortunate to start the first few games this season, I'm not counting my chickens! I'm only 24, which is a baby in terms of being a tight-head, but I'm really keen to keep on improving.

"Hopefully, over time, that will be the case."

His alma mater, Gormanston College, is traditionally a Gaelic school but after Hagan's emergence they have embraced rugby.

The times they are a changin' -- and Hagan too is doing it his own way.

And that single-minded approach is working.

So far, so good.

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