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Lions verdict on training week pick Kelleher

By Liam Heagney

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Lions assistant Robin McBryde has backed Ireland and Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher to come away from his training week in Jersey feeling ready for a potential call-up should the Warren Gatland-led squad encounter any injury trouble with the No2 position in South Africa.   

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With only 25 of the selected 37 Lions and one of the three chosen hookers available for the first week of the 2021 tour, Kelleher was invited to train on the Channel Islands this week before linking up with Andy Farrell’s Irish squad for their summer series fixtures in Dublin versus Japan and the USA.

The 23-year-old broke onto the international scene in February 2020 after Farrell’s appointment as the Ireland successor to Joe Schmidt, a transition that coincided with the retirement of veteran hooker and captain Rory Best.

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Kelleher has since gone on to earn eleven Test caps, four as a starter in the Ireland front row, and McBryde, the long-serving Wales assistant who has been working at Leinster since the 2019 World Cup, has now explained why the Dubliner was the perfect call to assist Lions training in a week where Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie were still with their clubs in England.

That left the tourists with just Ken Owens as their only hooker for the opening week and in order to have two packs going up against each other in training, Kelleher was brought in to help the forwards lay down some early markers ahead of a match schedule that commences with the June 26 game versus Japan in Edinburgh before Gatland’s squad flies to South Africa for their eight matches there.  

“He will grow undoubtedly,” reckoned McBryde when asked what a week filling in at Lions training could do for Kelleher’s career. “There were some close calls and Ronan’s was a close one as well. The conversation I had with Warren, we knew we were going to only carry one hooker with Jamie and Luke not here, so getting someone in as a stand-in would have been wasted on someone who is not on that standby list. 

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“It gives Ronan an opportunity to make an impression on the other coaches. I’m familiar with Ronan from a Leinster point of view and I had no doubts that he could come here and really set a marker for himself. It’s a great opportunity for Ronan and that has enabled us to work with two packs. 

“We have 14 forwards, at least we can do a few set scrums against live opposition so it’s great for the team, for the squad, for the pack collective to have that ability to go through that work, and then from Ronan’s point of view, it’s great for him as well to have that experience to rub shoulders with the best of the best of the British and Irish Lions. 

“It is going to grow him as an individual and I’m sure Ireland will get to use him in these summer Tests, so it works both ways and you never know he could join us at a later date as well.”

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Lions verdict on training week pick Kelleher

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