Set-piece focus has Sheehan standing out among front row prospects

HOOKER DAN SHEEHAN was a starter when he made his senior professional debut for Leinster early this season, but the impressive prospect has had to remain patient for his return to the number 2 shirt.

Sheehan has been massively effective as an impact replacement for the eastern province in recent weeks, finishing with an impressive flourish against the Dragons and Ulster.

Tonight against Zebre (kick-off 17.45, eir Sport), he will claim his ninth Leinster cap in the starting line-up.

“I think I’ve used the last three bench appearances well,” says the 22-year-old.

“It’s always competitive with James Tracy and Sean Cronin there. Everyone’s itching for game-time, just to get the consistency of three weeks in a row was even nice. Of course, moving on I’m looking to get a few starts. I just need to be patient and keep pushing.”

Pushing, indeed, has been an operative word for the Clongowes Wood product. Sheehan stands out when he takes the field because his 6’3″ frame makes him look like an extra back row prowling around the contact zone.

Traditionally, the front row has been a home for athletes of a lower centre of gravity, but after some teething issues since he began packing down against adults Sheehan is now ensuring his stature is firmly among his list of strengths.

“I would have probably struggled coming out of school,” he says of his scrummaging prowess and progress under coach Robin McBryde, “in Schools Rugby you don’t really scrummage and then with my height I probably struggled in my first year out of school, with just being a bit exposed.

“With Robin I’ve been able to work it into a bit of a strength where I can add real power into the middle of the scrum.

“With hooker, set-piece if your number one priority and I think nailing the line-out and scrum is by far my main role and what I can offer around the pitch is a bonus.”

The latter unquestionably comes naturally to Sheehan, with his ability to step and turn his powerful frame to a different point of contact sure to do damage for the visitors in Stadio Lanfranchi this evening and lay a platform for Harry Byrne to play from.

Zebre: Gabriele Di Giulio, Pierre Bruno, Jamie Elliott, Enrico Lucchin, Giovanni D’Onofrio, Antonio Rizzi, Joshua Renton; Paolo Buonfiglio, Massimo Ceciliani, Matteo Nocera, Mick Kearney, Ian Nagle, Iacopo Bianchi, Potu Junior Leavasa, Renato Giammarioli.

Replacements: Niccolò Taddia, Alexandru Tarus, Eduardo Bello, Samuele Ortis, Leonard Krumov, Nicolò Casilio, Guglielmo Palazzani, Lorenzo Masselli.

Leinster: Max O’Reilly, Cian Kelleher, Jimmy O’Brien, Rory O’Loughlin, Dave Kearney, Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath (Capt), Peter Dooley, Dan Sheehan, Thomas Clarkson, Ross Molony, Jack Dunne, Josh Murphy, Scott Penny,Alex Soroka.

Replacements: James Tracy, Marcus Hanan, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Seán O’Brien, Hugh O’Sullivan, Tim Corkery, Jamie Osborne.

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