Munster came into this Guinness PRO12 season with just one recognised senior openside on the books, but few could have predicted that young No.7 Conor Oliver would prove to be the ace up Rassie Erasmus’ sleeve.
With none other than Tommy O’Donnell ahead of him in the Munster pecking order, Oliver has big shoes to fill every time he takes to the turf at Thomond Park.
And while he is not the most physically imposing flanker in the PRO12 (yet), the 21-year-old has demonstrated flawless tackling technique and relentless energy in his appearances so far in the famous red jersey of Munster.
Dublin-born Oliver arrived in Limerick back in 2015 from the Leinster Academy, having already won a Leinster Schools Senior Cup crown in the same Blackrock College side as Joey Carberry.
But with Sean O’Brien, Josh Van der Flier, and Jordi Murphy battling it out at the RDS Arena for the No.7 jersey, Oliver’s decision to swap the blue shirt for a red one now looks like an inspired decision.
After making his debut last season, Oliver has turned himself into a regular off the bench this term and really announced himself with a titanic performance starting in the Maori All Blacks’ tour game at Thomond Park.
Oliver stopped Akira Ioane, one of the most promising No.8s in world rugby, in his tracks with a perfect tackle with 80 minutes on the clock in that game – a play that summed up his dynamic skill all over the park.
His first try for Munster’s senior side came against Edinburgh back in September, as he took on Tyler Bleyendaal’s offload on the overlap, and had the skill and presence of mind to side-step Scottish international Duncan Weir before scoring in the corner.
His work rate at the breakdown has been equally as impressive, and Oliver is clearly benefitting from going toe-to-toe with the likes of Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue and CJ Stander in training.
“There’s world-class back rows here in Munster,” he said. “I take a step back sometimes and just observe and learn.
“Seeing what they do and the things they have told me to do have helped my game hugely and readied me for opportunities when they come my way.
“It’s a great feeling always when putting that No.7 jersey on your back. You realise how far you’ve come, but also how hard you have to fight to keep it.”
To date he has made 16 senior appearances for Munster, scoring three more times after that maiden try against Edinburgh.
Oliver underlined his credentials with a man-of-the-match performance in Round 19 of the Guinness PRO12 against Glasgow Warriors at Irish Independent Park, and if he continues to improve at this rate, the former Ireland under-20s international’s star will surely continue to rise.
The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie
Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final