Iron men of Irish rugby: Resilient Niyi Adelokun sets the pace

Connacht winger has had more game time this year than any player in four provinces

They represent the iron men of Irish provincial rugby, the players who have compiled the most minutes for Connacht, Ulster, Munster and Leinster to date in the 2016-2017 season. The player who leads the way might come as something of a surprise, Connacht's flying wing Niyi Adeolokun.

The 26-year-old, who made his debut for Ireland in a November Test match against Canada, has togged out in 19 matches for Pat Lam's side since the start of the season, racking up an impressive 1,452 minutes of game time. In fact the top two players in the 'most minutes played' category during the aforementioned period come from Connacht.

The other is captain, John Muldoon who has been on the pitch for just 29 minutes less than his team-mate. Adeolokun, Nigerian born, DLS Churchtown educated, who blossomed under the initial tutelage of Tony Smeeth at Dublin University before moving to Connacht, has scored five tries this season but that figure must be weighed against the province's indifferent results following last year's stunning Guinness Pro12 success.

One of the fastest players in Irish rugby, he will be hoping for a strong, injury-free finish to the season so that he can convince Ireland coach Joe Schmidt that he is worthy of a place on the summer tour to the USA and Japan.

Leading the way in Ulster and second in terms of the provincial pecking order, is New Zealand-born backrow, Sean Reidy, who won an Ireland cap against the Springboks during last year's tour to South Africa. He has amassed 1,415 minutes from an impressive 20 matches, particularly when considering the position in which he plays. He started in 17 of those games.

Ulster were handicapped by a lengthy list of injuries to backrow players in the early part of the season. It necessitated Reidy having to not only tog out, but start a significant tranche of consecutive matches. Against that backdrop the numbers he accumulated, three tries, 405 metres gained, 159 carries, 240 tackles, 14 clean breaks, 14 defenders beaten and 11 turnovers, illustrate the consistent quality of his performances.

Red jersey

For the purposes of this column, the matches that counted for the overall minutes, related to Pro12 games and those in the Champions Cup. In that respect Munster outhalf Tyler Bleyendaal leads the way for Rassie Erasmus' charges registering 1,260 minutes over 17 matches (169 points) but if the game against the New Zealand Maori was factored into the equation then wing Ronan O'Mahony would have snuck into first place down south.

The 27-year-old Limerick man, from the Garryowen club, has played 1,317 minutes in 18 appearances in the red jersey this season, with a superb strike-rate of nine tries; one every two matches.

Leinster captain, Isa Nacewa, currently rehabilitating an injury, leads the way for Leo Cullen's squad with 1098 minutes across 15 matches (153 points), all of which he started. He has played 12-minutes more than former Springbok Zane Kirchner (1086, 15 matches) but the Leinster player who has been involved in most games for the province this season is Jamison Gibson Park, who has been part of the match-day squad on 20 occasions (7+13).

Working out an average by dividing the number of minutes by the number of games in relation to the top players in each of the four provinces, Adeolokun (76.42) would remain at the top of the listings but Bleyendaal (74.11) would jump into second place, Nacewa (73.20) into third and Reidy fourth at 70.75 .

However there would be a significant number of players across the provinces who would usurp these figures on the basis of a smaller number of games against a coefficient of a 1,000 plus minutes. For example Leinster and Ireland centre Garry Ringrose would have an average of 78; 1024 minutes divided by 13 matches, all starts.

But for now the player to catch in every respect is Niyi Adeolokun.

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