Josh van der Flier praised after setting new Leinster tackling record

Province primed for Ulster clash as McGrath, Leavy and Byrne recover from knocks

A whistle-stop tour of Leinster's injury situation ahead of Saturday's Guinness Pro14 game against Ulster at the RDS (5.35, live on TG4, Sky Sports, BBC 2) is largely positive, especially in relation to a couple of players who picked up knocks in Monday's 21-18 victory over Connacht.

Scrumhalf Luke McGrath passed a head injury assessment (HIA) late on in that match and would have returned to the pitch but there was no break in play between his withdrawal and the end of the game. Flanker Dan Leavy picked up a lower back issue just before the interval but the prognosis is good and he, like McGrath, should be available for selection.

Jack McGrath has come through the return-to-play protocols after sustaining a head knock and being withdrawn against Munster at the interval on St Stephen's Day and will play against Ulster, while wing Adam Byrne, having recovered from a knee injury, is also in contention.

Joey Carbery (arm) will be reintegrated into team training, seven weeks after suffering heavy contact in the Test match against Fiji; the Champions Cup matches against Glasgow Warriors or Montpellier could herald his return to competitive action.


Rory O'Loughlin underwent a post-match HIA after a tackle on Ultan Dillane and is ruled out of the Ulster game as are Sean O'Brien (hip), Richardt Strauss (back) and James Ryan (ankle).


Josh van der Flier's statistics were upgraded to 34 tackles and none missed in the Connacht match, an individual record for the province. Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty admitted: "His appetite for work [is impressive] and he has brought so much accuracy in doing the drills he does and his entry into contact is excellent.

“His efficiency in rucks is very high. He’s off the ground early, moving early and that allows him to put himself in position early. His appetite, attitude and application have been very impressive.”

The young openside was part of an impressive Leinster backrow that included the in-form Leavy and former World Under-20 player of the year Max Deegan at number eight.

Fogarty offered an appraisal of both, starting with Leavy. “He is a special player. Back in schools, we would have tracked him all the way through and he always had an X-factor about his game. He has improved in areas of the game where he needed to.

“In the lineout, some of his movements there, those small parts of the game can propel him into a better place even from an Irish point of view. But for us over the last few weeks he has been excellent. He’s a very physical player; he carries with a low centre of gravity and is very heavy in contact. And on the other side of the ball, he puts himself in strong situations to get over the ball and get some rewards.


“He has done that quite well and stood out over the last few weeks. But he has a lot to do still. He is a very talented player who gets a lot of big moments in the game but we want to see him put together 80-minute performances, staying robust, staying fit and offering for the team across all parts, not just the big parts. But certainly he has had a strong few weeks.”

Deegan made 26 tackles, a number of poaches and scored a try to boot. Fogarty said: “He’s an impressive player. Showing he can graft like that is important for Max, that he can get stuck in because some of those Leinster backrows can get pigeonholed real quick because he can play the game and obviously has a bit of X-factor to his attack.

“But he gets stuck in in defence, bends down in contact to make sure he gets accurate entries, he’s been quite impressive. He’s another guy who has to do a lot of work with his game to go to the next level, but he’s showing really, really good signs.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer