Stuart Lancaster has been working at Leinster for two years now and has witnessed first-hand the amount of talent churning through the academy system at the Irish province. He has astute judgement when it comes to young players, having also worked with Leeds Academy and as the RFU Head of Elite Player Development.
One player who has stood out in Lancaster’s time at the club is Jordan Larmour.
The versatile back only turned 21 in June and is just 12 months into his senior career, but Larmour already has a Grand Slam with Ireland and a 2-1 series win in Australia under his belt, along with Champions Cup and PRO14 winner’s medals. And the former England head coach feels Ireland and Leinster have their own version of prodigiously talented All Black Damian McKenzie.
“Whether he is in the 15 shirt or any shirt really, he reminds me of the threat that Damian McKenzie brings for the All Blacks, so you don’t know what he is going to do and when he is going to do it and that unpredictability sets Jordan apart from other players I have coached recently, so what you’ll find is at 15 he is a really good option, because if you kick to him then something is liable to happen,” Lancaster said.
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“Interesting speaking to James Lowe who played with Damian McKenzie, I think he sparks off that type of player. I think the combination works well for us.”
Larmour made 22 appearances in an outstanding breakout season for Leinster, scoring eight tries. He was picked on the wing for both finals, marking him out as one of their key men. When told of Lancaster’s comparison to the Chiefs playmaker, the humble Larmour said “He hasn’t told me that!”
Larmour, who has played most of his rugby on the wing or fullback, is also comfortable slotting in at centre and while not a “nerd of the game” as he describes some of his teammates, he says he’s picking up things by analysing others, including the aforementioned McKenzie, who predominantly plays at 10 or 15.
“I think it’s important to be open-minded and see how other players play, how they operate. Damian McKenzie is an unbelievable player, so trying to add a few things off him, new ideas might help my game a bit. I definitely think it’s important to be open-minded.
“Earlsy (Ireland and Munster player Keith Earls), for me, I like to watch him a lot and see how he goes about his business. He’s an unbelievable player, so you’re trying to get better and improve. Anything that will help that, you want to incorporate into your game somehow.”
Larmour is still far from the finished product and struggled on his Six Nations debut against Italy when Ireland shipped a few late tries. And while not name-checked by Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell in the aftermath, his pointed comment that “some young lads who hadn’t got vast amounts of experience might have been getting carried away with themselves”, may have hit home.
Larmour speaks of the “high risk/high reward” that is part of his natural game and there were a few times against the Scarlets in the PRO14 last weekend where he found himself in difficulty, but asked whether Larmour ironing out mistakes will come with maturity or if some players never mature Lancaster was emphatic.
“Yeah you are right, some players never do and then they ultimately don’t get picked in the big games, but I don’t get that sense with Jordan,” Leinster’s senior coach said.
“He is a very quick learner and he’s not that type of player that will just run and run and run, because people pay him more attention now. I mean he’s already got more attention this year than he did last year, people didn’t know who he was.
“Suddenly he scores tries, well he came on against Ulster, he scored that try against Munster and actually I was reviewing the game of the Dragons last year and he played very well in the home game against the Dragons last year. He has got more attention and that happens as a young player – you are on this upward curve and then people give you more attention and sometimes they plateau a bit, but the best ones kick on again.”
COURTESY: Leinster Rugby
Certainly Larmour isn’t resting on his laurels and asked what his targets for the season he said:
“Probably just to grow more as a player, watching more rugby and trying to understand it more. The things in my game that need work, I want to try and bring them up and be more of a rounded player, a better one overall.
“I’m doing a lot of work on my high ball, with my kicking, my defending… it’s kind of just trying to bring those areas up. Those are the main targets I’d have, just to grow as a player and to try to talk more, be more dominant.”
One journalist stepped in with another goal suggestion – don’t get shouted at by Johnny Sexton (as he did against the Scarlets in the Champions Cup semi-final last April).
“Definitely. Ah, he only did it once, but you never want it to be you!
“I suppose sometimes you need that, you know? You need a barking, a kick up the ass really.”
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