Guinness PRO14 Next Gen: Ronan Kelleher

Charlie Talbot-Smith
08 October 2019

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The St Michael’s College conveyor belt appears to have produced another wunderkind.

The school that most recently brought through James Ryan, Dan Leavy and Luke McGrath had another alumni in Ronan Kelleher starring in Leinster blue.

The 21-year-old hooker made his debut for the province last season, coming off the bench in a much-changed squad that travelled to Port Elizabeth to take on the Isuzu Southern Kings.

But this season, with Sean Cronin away with Ireland in Japan, Kelleher appears to have taken his game to the next level.

Certainly Leo Cullen agrees, considering Kelleher has started both of the first two games of this season ahead of Ireland international James Tracy and the highly rated Bryan Byrne.

He was solid if unspectacular on the opening weekend against Benetton, but last weekend against Ospreys was his official coming out party.

The hooker scored a hat-trick, only the fourth No.2 to achieve that feat in Guinness PRO14 history, and showcased every skillset in his arsenal.

The younger brother of Leinster and former Connacht winger Cian Kelleher, Ronan started out as an outside back as well.

That turn of pace was  evident in his first try, appearing on Will Connors’ shoulder to collect his pass and run a full 45 metres for the score in front of an adoring RDS crowd.

In his youth career at school, and in club rugby with Lansdowne, he soon moved to the back row.

And that breakdown nous was clear to see in his second, a fine counter-ruck knocking the ball free near the Ospreys line before he then dived on it to score.

But now he is a specialist hooker, the nuts and bolts of his game therefore have to be the set-piece.

So take a look at Exhibit C – his third try.

Kelleher’s lineout throwing was perfect for the hour he was on the pitch last weekend, and for his hat-trick score he was dragged over the line at the back of a rolling maul.

Kelleher had not scored a senior try before this weekend, now he has three and there is no telling how high he can go.

“With the Ireland lads away, we knew there would be opportunities,” he says of this World Cup block. “I was really focusing on trying to improve my skillset throughout the pre-season. Just narrowing my focus on my lineout throwing and stuff like that. Really trying to improve that aspect of my game, as well as my tackle tech and poach work.

“I love the S&C part of the day-to-day training too and I think everyone is just really focused on laying down a marker for the season ahead. It’s more just about trying to step up and fill the jersey with Seanie is over at the World Cup.”

“I’m loving it out there,” he adds. “I loved it last week against Treviso, so hopefully if it’s the will of the coaches [I’ll keep hold of the jersey]. But what’s really important is to try and get maximum points from these three games and then really look to build on that.”

And Cullen likes what he has seen also: “He’s done well,” the Leinster head coach says. “He has come through the academy and especially for the front five forwards, some of the AIL games they play are really important. Particularly with Mike Ruddock at Lansdowne. It’s really valuable.

“Ronan has played a lot of AIL games last year and now he looks pretty comfortable. Physically he has always been pretty well developed and he’s just adding a few layers of the nuts and bolts to his game.”

Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!

General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.

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