Lar­mour love

Gerry Thorn­ley pro­files Ire­land’s com­ing man

The Irish Times - - Front Page - Gerry Thorn­ley

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 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.”

Evade play­ers

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.”

Hugely sup­port­ive

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.”

Stun­ning try

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAN SHERI­DAN/INPHO

Jor­dan Lar­mour on his way to scor­ing his third try against Italy at Sol­dier Field last week.

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