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Leinster proving you can have too many young ones

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 05/05/2016

On the move: Leinster’s bright young star Cian Kelleher feels he is ‘better off’ playing his provincial rugby with Connacht
On the move: Leinster’s bright young star Cian Kelleher feels he is ‘better off’ playing his provincial rugby with Connacht

If Leinster don't want to lose their bright young things, they need to use them. And when you have used a running total of 56 players this season it's hard to keep the whole squad happy. The province's excellent production line is turning up more talented individuals than they can fit in a match-day 23.

So, if a highly promising full-back looks at the queue of internationals ahead of him and thinks: 'Maybe I'm better off with Connacht', then surely they can't complain.

Yet they have, with Cian Kelleher's move west drawing the ire of a provincial spokesman who complained of "broken protocols" to the Sunday Independent before the move had even been confirmed.

The complaints were rich, given they are coming from the province who have routinely picked off Connacht's best players and have already secured their leading international, Robbie Henshaw, for next season.

Yet they are unhappy that the IRFU might have encouraged the 21-year-old to move the other way despite their understanding that he would sign a development contract to remain.

Accounts vary on the precise details of who made first contact, but ultimately Kelleher has decided that the best thing for his career is to make the move.

It is all part of the ongoing power struggle between the provinces and headquarters on Lansdowne Road and the perceived intervention of IRFU performance director David Nucifora.

And Kelleher is not the only promising young player making a move to better his chances of playing for Ireland.

Another former U-20s star, Sam Arnold, looked at the five international centres who blocked his way to a place in the Ulster centre and decided that the Munster roster looked more appetising. The move made sense.

A year ago, Kelleher made his Leinster debut off the bench on the final day of last season. A week later, he was selected on the bench for Ireland's uncapped challenge against the Barbarians. He is a player Joe Schmidt rates, with the Ireland coach hailing his "special acceleration and balance", while also remarking on his high skill-level.

Yet, despite the fact that they have had this excellent young full-back on their books, Leinster have started him just once this season, with his other five appearances coming off the bench.

Ahead of him, Leo Cullen has gone for Rob Kearney, Isa Nacewa, Zane Kirchner and Ian Madigan and, while he has had some injury issues, the fact remains that he has spent most of his season playing British and Irish Cup and Ulster Bank League rugby.

Nucifora gave a rare interview last weekend in which he conceded his frustration at the hesitancy among young players when it comes to leaving their home provinces as he tries to create depth for Schmidt by spreading contenders throughout the provinces.

The IRFU wanted Ian Madigan to go to Munster but he chose Bordeaux, in part because of his identification with Leinster. Ulster's hugely promising winger Rory Scholes is another who has left the system, opting for two-years in Edinburgh instead of a move south.

It won't be part of Connacht's plan, but it's possible that, if the move works out, Kelleher could return to Leinster a better player with a bank of provincial rugby under his belt and some Ireland caps to boot.

Nucifora's vision is taking shape. It's time to get on board.

Belfast Telegraph

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