Caelan Doris and Leinster keen to meet the Munster challenge head-on

Versatile flanker feeling refreshed following lockdown and eager again for the fray

Sean O'Brien may have departed but with Jack Conan and now Dan Leavy back in the mix after long-term injuries, it's a reflection of the esteem the Leinster brains trust place in Conan that he was brought into his familiar No 8 position for the first post-lockdown game against Munster.

Equally, it's a measure of Caelan Doris's rapidly-acquired status as a frontline Leinster and Irish backrower that he has been accommodated at '6'. All nine of the loose forwards on Leinster's books have featured in their opening two games and one ventures Leo Cullen could happily draw three names from a hat and not be too disappointed with the outcome.

But, mindful that the backrow combination to face Munster in Friday’s Pro14 semi-final will be based entirely on merit, for the moment, at any rate, it looks as if Doris, Conan and Josh van der Flier are the province’s preferred option.

All of Doris’s 21 starts for Leinster prior to lockdown were at ‘8’ but he has adapted seamlessly and says of the switch: “There’s a few nuances to it, a bigger involvement in the lineout, both in attack and defence; a little bit off restart, it’s a small bit different there but I think they’re pretty happy for me and Jack both to play, in general, in unstructured play to play an ‘8’ role, the two of us.


“They want us to get into the thick of things rather than worry too much about holding too much width and stuff like that. So not too different.”

Although his ascent into the Irish backrow was unfortunately cut short by a concussion five minutes into his debut against Scotland before returning for an eye-catching cameo off the bench against England, Doris admits he enjoyed the lockdown and the chance to overcome other niggles.

He physically looked the part against England, but given his passing and offloading skills are prominent parts of his all-court game, it was almost surprising to hear him admit this was one of his priorities after relocating back to his native Lacken in Mayo.

“I did quite a lot of skills stuff. I set up a few wheelie bins. I was back home in Mayo so I had a fair bit of space around the garden. It’s pretty rural. I did lots of catching and passing and offloading, with my parents as well.

“Then from a physical point of view, they gave us a pretty structured running and lifting programme. I had quite a few weights and a squat rack from two years ago with my brother so I had a pretty good set-up in the shed out the back and I was doing a couple of extra ‘gyms’ as well.

“So I feel like I’m in pretty good shape now. It’s always a little bit different coming back in into matches. No matter how hard you train it’s always slightly different, the match scenario. It’s hard to replicate 80 minutes of physical contact. I was still blowing a little bit last Saturday but after a couple of games you get into it.”

He says his parents, Chris and Rachel, were very useful.

“Yeah, my Dad still says he’s better than I am so I’ve a bit of a way to go. My Mum is actually pretty good as well, to be fair to her.”

Key focus

Now, collectively, Doris clearly expects a significant improvement from that opening game against Munster, after which all 15 of that starting XV team were rested against Ulster and had training sessions last Thursday and Friday.

This effectively gave them an eight-day run-in to this semi-final compared to Munster’s five-day turnaround with a largely unchanged squad for last Sunday’s win over 13-man Connacht.

According to Doris, they needed it. Asked what were the work-ons from the first Munster meeting, he said: “Plenty. Our lineout was obviously a pretty big work-on. We spoke about that quite a bit. Our discipline – I think we gave away 17 penalties. The breakdown in particular, our two bullets being early and dealing with their threats.

“Obviously Stander was pretty prolific in that area and it’s going to be the same this weekend. Beirne as well back in the picture, he’s another big threat. So that’s going to be a key focus now. That and the lineout are two big areas of improvement.”

“Then around the park, just getting into our flow again, it had been six months. We had trained together quite a bit obviously over the last six weeks, so the cohesion is there, but it’s just slightly different when it’s in a match scenario. That will come again.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times