Something appears to have clicked in Ross Molony’s game. Although he has played 137 matches over the course of the last eight seasons for Leinster, at 27 he is having the best campaign of his career.
As the tally of caps indicate, Molony has always been highly valued by Leo Cullen, one of Leinster's all-time great second-rows, and Moloney's voice and leadership have been especially important when the front-liners have been away on Ireland duty.
At 6ft' 6in and 107kg, Molony has always been a very athletic player and a superb lineout operator, without having quite the physicality of, say, the up-and-coming Joe McCarthy, 6ft 6in and 120kg, or the electric running of a Ryan Baird.
But almost like Josh van der Flier, if not quite to same dynamic effect, Molony has clearly worked assiduously on his ball-carrying, be it the timing and angle of his carries. He has also been seizing the moment and influencing games more.
Perhaps because James Ryan has played relatively little this season while Devin Toner has been eased towards retirement, but there has also been more game time or, to be precise, more big games.
Although Molony had played 17 times in Europe before this season, there had only been two starts, whereas this season he has started all five of Leinster's games. In the absence of Ryan and Toner, Molony's lineout calling, a skill which requires experience, has become more valued.
There are no doubt a myriad of reasons for this season's upward graph, although the way Molony himself tells it being called up to the Irish squad last summer, while being the only uncapped players not to feature against Japan or the USA, was a key factor.
“I’m just loving my rugby at the moment. I got that exposure in the summer, arguably late in the career, let’s call it that. I went into a different environment, an international set-up. It’s kind of like nearly a bit of a kick, a motivational thing, that this is the level that I want to get to. And I feel like I can get to it.
“As you said, I’ve got a run of games together and then keep working on top of the small bits I’ve picked up along the way. I can realise what it takes.”
Seemingly that exposure to the Irish squad prompted him to become even more assiduous in his detail.
“There are a lot of individual skillsets in terms of lineout calling, kick-off receipts, catch-and-pass stuff, lots of stuff in there. Not that I would have done all that before but it was definitely a little bit of a kick that I needed. I had to work constantly on this. This is my game and this is what will get me selected for those games.”
“There wasn’t really a wake-up call. There was definitely a realisation that this is a short career and I have to put everything I possibly can into this career. Because when I’m sitting down and looking back at my career post-rugby at whatever age, I want to be happy that I gave everything I could have to get to the next level, win big tournaments for my club and ultimately put on the green jersey.”
Not, he says, that he had become in any way complacent with life as a trusted member of the Leinster squad.
“I think you get found out pretty quickly if that’s your attitude in Leinster. The quality we have here, and you can see the young players like Joe McCarthy bursting on to the scene this year, I don’t think comfortable is a mindset anyone can have in here. Because there is always someone pushing you out the door.”
In terms of breaking into the Irish squad, the tour to New Zealand is a prime target.
“At the moment my mindset is that there are two trophies to win with Leinster. Summer is obviously one of my goals but it is not to the front of my mind at the moment. I’ve said I am putting everything I can into this team and into my performances with this team. If that goes well hopefully that ends up happening at the end of the season.”
That is also one of the potential advantages of playing with Leinster, especially at the business end of the season.
“Yeah, exactly. It’s all about this team and what we can do, and we have an opportunity to do something special and win two trophies, and that starts on Saturday.”
Molony's respect for the Leicester lineout is palpable. "Steve Borthwick drives a really good system there, and they have the players who understand it very well."
And it is as much due to the system as their physicality which makes Molony believe their pack is comparable with Saracens and La Rochelle, the teams who ended Leinster's Euro ambitions over the last three seasons.
Then there is the Welford Road factor, where Leicester have won 15 out of 15 this season and a baying crowd will demand Leinster’s prized scalp.
“The most important thing for us is how close we stay as a group,” says Molony. “We’re travelling away from home, there will be a crowd factor that can influence decisions and referees or whatever it will be. For us it’s how tight we can stay, having confidence in our training throughout the week, knowing that if we stick to our process we can get the outcome.”