herald

Thursday 21 June 2018

Leo can't ignore this kid

Larmour is star of the show again as European selection headache looms

Jordan Larmour of Leinster scores his side’s fifth try during the Guinness PRO14 match against Ulster at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile
Jordan Larmour of Leinster scores his side’s fifth try during the Guinness PRO14 match against Ulster at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile

The mini-series that is the inter-provincial rivalries concluded with Leinster coming out smelling of roses.

There were three wins from three, one bonus point out of Ulster, 93 points for and 39 against, with 11 tries and 13 points earned.

All of this feeds into 11 wins from 13 rounds to sit menacingly two points behind the Scarlets in Conference B.

Munster bounced back when they opened up late on to cleave Connacht at Thomond Park.

Director of Rugby Johann van Graan will take all of the positives, douse them in the reality of what their victims brought, and turn all eyes towards Racing 92 in the Champions Cup.

The Western Province looked leggy and light on the front-line without the punch of Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Kieran Marmion.

This is not to disregard recent signs of life for coach Kieran Keane ahead of an important Challenge Cup clash at Worcester Warriors.

Breakdown

Worst of all, Ulster look to be on the brink of a complete breakdown as they resembled nothing more than a speed bump for Leinster at The RDS.

They can either fight through adversity or fade away at home to scary La Rochelle in Europe.

Coach Leo Cullen even had the luxury of looking back on the last five matches and questioning the Leinster selections for the Exeter Chiefs in mid-December.

Prop Andrew Porter celebrates Leinster’s win at the RDS on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Prop Andrew Porter celebrates Leinster’s win at the RDS on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

"Coming off the two European games, we weren't really sure if we got selection right for that second game," he offered.

"For whatever reason, I thought we looked a bit flat, in the first half.

"We dug ourselves out of a pretty considerable hole that day."

The curse of their depth is the doubt it brings when everything doesn't quite go to plan.

"You're never 100pc sure and, from that game, we weren't too sure," he said.

"As a result of that, you look at what's up next, who's fresh off the back of those games, and then you make a call.

"There's no getting off the fact that it's three games in 11 days. It's important we have some sort of plan while trying to win all the games we're playing."

Cullen has done a masterful job in dealing with all the moving pieces in his squad, refusing to turn to his perceived first choice for either Connacht or Ulster.

It is one thing to talk up the trust in players; another to represent it by the litmus test that is team selection.

For instance, the confidence Josh Murphy must have taken from Saturday evening is invaluable.

Fergus McFadden looks reborn on the right wing, leaving Jacob Stockdale on the seat of his pants for his second try.

Tight-head Andrew Porter put everyone on notice of his explosive power by steaming over the top of the unfortunate Stockdale.

Then, there is the rise of 20-year-old sensation Jordan Larmour.

His brace of tries makes it three in two games and six in total to lead Leinster's try-scoring chart alongside All-Ireland League pick-up Barry Daly, who stung Charles Piutau for a sharp sixth in completing just his second 80 minutes of the season.

Overall, you have to ponder whether Cullen has Larmour in mind when discussing his pre-Christmas selection.

There comes a time when you simply cannot turn away from the brilliance of the young star.

"If someone goes out and score a couple of tries, it definitely makes it harder not to pick that person," smiled Cullen.

"Now, we go into two games in six days, but we've an eight-day lead into this game, so we'll be able to prepare well.

"What we do in between, and how guys come through, we'll make assessments on the go."

There are good headaches and bad headaches to have in this game with Leinster's problems amounting to who to leave it out rather than finding someone to put in.

"Guys are putting their hands up. That's what you want, to be having to make tough decisions.

"It'd be tough if you'd no players available and you're digging around for players - that's a tough decision."

The main challenge for Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will be to keep the troops on an even keel.

Dave Rennie's Glasgow will want to make up for what they know was a no-show at Scotstoun in October. Much will be revealed when the teams are turned out around noon on Friday.

Will Rennie send his best men or hold them back to maintain the push in the PRO14 League?

Will Cullen let Larmour off the leash in Europe?

Surely, he just has to.

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