Larmour looks the real deal
Toughness added to talent makes the Ireland fullback a player to get really excited about
Jordan Larmour is the latest jewel in Irish rugby. No doubt about it. He has the kind of X-factor to draw comparisons with Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls when they first came on the scene, and before them Brian O’Driscoll. But according to those who know him longer, crucially there is more to this relatively sleight, baby-faced player than the outrageous footwork and pace, which could be just as significant as his career unfolds.
As he demonstrated when scoring a hat-trick on his full Ireland debut last week, the 21-year-old has a rare gift. That dancing footwork, along with lightning acceleration, is an innate talent. It can’t be coached, although it can be fine tuned with work, and as you’d expect from such a grounded youngster he has a strong work ethic.
However, while he will have setbacks along the way, he has already shown an ability to overcome them and it hasn’t always been plain sailing.
In October 2015, at the start of what should have been his second season on the St Andrew’s senior cup team, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and was ruled out for the season. Far from breaking him, he resolved to make himself stronger.
Charlie Doel, now head of rugby at St Andrew’s, recalls how Ray Moran, the famed knee surgeon based in Santry, and Dave Jones, the school’s strength and conditioning coach, helped Larmour on the road back.
“His evasion and running skills are brilliant, but Jordan’s strongest asset is his mental toughness. No shadow of a doubt there. His work ethic coming back from that injury, and he actually came back stronger, was incredible for someone that young.”
Doel first came across Larmour when he was 11, in his last year at primary school, and he played for St Andrew’s in an underage rugby tournament in Willow Park.
“He wasn’t the biggest kid of all time but he obviously knew he had to evade players rather than run straight at them, so his evasive skills were there from a young age.”
Moving into secondary school, and the under-12s, Doel recalls: “In that first year, we went to Kilkenny, which is always a tough place to go, and I think he scored four or five tries, kicked a bunch of conversions, one or two penalties, made a load of turnover tackles. He did everything to win the match that day other than drive the bus home. He was 12 years old and it was the best performance I’ve ever seen in that younger age group.”
Driven and dedicated, whatever he has put his mind to, he has so far achieved, often with stunning swiftness. So Larmour also put in the hours with Jones to fine tune his footwork and acceleration.
Larmour hails from Carrickmines. His father, Ian, is a former St Andrew’s pupil who was a strong-running wing in his day. Larmour’s younger brother Adam, until recently injured, was playing at fullback on the Blackrock AIL team, and his sister Claudia was a good hockey player.
Larmour played hockey, cricket, and other sports all through secondary school, made the Ireland Under-18 Schools international hockey team, and was a Leinster and All-Ireland champion. He remains a keen golfer and is studying sports psychology.
It comes as little surprise to hear Doel describe Larmour as “a model pupil”. “He was never any trouble. I taught him maths and he has plenty of ability but sport was his main focus in school, I think it’s fair to say,” admits Doel with a chuckle. “He’s been the backs coach in the school for the last couple of years and he’s a real driving force.”
His father and his mother, Anne, have been hugely supportive all along, surprising him last week by turning up unannounced at the Ireland team hotel in Chicago the day before his full debut.
Larmour, in his first year on the school’s senior cup rugby team, played with Andrew Porter and Greg Jones, now in the Ulster academy, in their final year. “They made the semi-finals of the cup and were beaten in a close enough game by Clongowes.”
In his final year, he made the Ireland under-18s a year ahead of schedule, as well as 19s and 20s, before a broken ankle ruled him out of the under-20 World Championships.
However, this meant he trained with Leinster after returning that summer and was in place to make his debut in their seasonal opener in September last year, when scoring a try against the Dragons.
Famously, toward the end of Larmour’s school days, in April 2016, he was asked to play for a Blackrock College President’s XV against the touring Hamilton Boys High School. Hamilton won 26-22, but Larmour stole the show at outside centre.
“They had four New Zealand schoolboys in their team, but his evasiveness and offloading were amazing that day. Joe Schmidt was in attendance, catching up with some mates, and he came over to David Boyd, our then head of rugby who had assembled the side, and said to him: ‘That’s quite a talent you have on your hands’.” Before the November internationals in 2016, when Ireland would beat the All Blacks in Chicago, Schmidt had Larmour in training with the Ireland squad.
Like others, O’Driscoll had heard of this special talent from Larmour’s school days through a friend, Rory O’Donoghue, who happens to be Larmour’s first cousin.
“It’s the acceleration and the identification of who is defending on the inside as well, knowing when to step against the grain and cut back and then there’s nothing in rugby like acceleration,” adds O’Driscoll. “There’s two very different players with the same skill set, one that has gas and one that doesn’t and he possesses an incredible skill set with footwork but ultimately it’s his zero to 10 speed that gets him into half gaps and gets him away from would be defenders. That’s one of the traits we’re going to see over the next 10 years, he’s going to leave players behind that think he’s within their grasp.”
O’Driscoll preaches caution of his potential heir, naturally. “I still see him as quite raw. I still think that – is he 21? – let’s give him a little bit of time to work the finesse and other parts of his game that maybe don’t organically come as naturally as his ball carrying and his footwork.
“He’s frightening defenders, of that there’s no doubt and they will have talked about him this week. He will be one of their focal points and for a 21-year-old that’s very exciting and comes with an element of trepidation too that you get that level of focus.
“His kicking game looks as though it’s come on, his defending I still think has a little bit of work to do, understanding positioning and chasing his feet but that comes with experience. We need to cut him a little bit of slack,” says O’Driscoll, although he admits if Larmour has another big game today he will be challenging Rob Kearney for the fullback jersey.
“I’m sure Rob Kearney looked on nervously about what he was doing last week. He made a really good decision on the read even though it was a pretty wonky pass for the intercept. There was soft defence for the other try and then that third try was absolutely mesmeric.
“The jump step, it’s very hard to coach that, that’s innately in you or not and there’s not many players in world rugby that are capable of that and the acceleration after it to leave the defenders in their wake. He’s incredibly exciting and he’s the guy in possession of the jersey this weekend.”
Just five games into his Leinster career, and within a dozen minutes of replacing Noel Reid in midfield against Ulster, Larmour scored a stunning try from half-way when stepping off his right foot to beat Iain Henderson and then veered around John Cooney like Christian Cullen.
Rory Best had an increasingly distant view of Larmour’s try that night in the Kingspan Stadium, and again when Larmour scored a brace at the RDS against Ulster in January. Today, the 36-year-old – no doubt to his relief – will be playing alongside Larmour for the first time.
“It’s going to be another test for him, for sure, but he’s a quality kid and not a lot phases him. He will be nervous and everything that goes around starting a big Test is very different to being on the bench but seeing what he’s done – and he’s been around the squad for a few years now – he just takes things in his stride.
“He relies on the way he prepares. When you see the way he knows the moves and the way he goes about preparing for a game, you have a lot of confidence that he’ll deliver.”
As well as having a priceless ability, especially in tight matches, to create something out of nothing, Best said of Larmour: “He’s certainly very confident in his ability but he’s certainly not over-confident. When he’s around the place, he’s very respectful. He chats to you, he doesn’t think he’s above anyone.”
“He’s a really well brought up kid that knows how to interact in the group. He’s confident in his ability and I think it’s a sign of the group that we have so much young talent coming through. There’s an environment there where they can flourish and be their best, but that they also fit in as people as well.”
And he’s tough with it too.
He wasn’t the biggest kid of all time but he obviously knew he had to evade players rather than run straight at them, so his evasive skills were there from a young age
Jordan Larmour on his way to scoring his third try against Italy at Soldier Field last week.