Cork rugby: Leeside trio making a mark with Munster in recent months

Cork rugby: Leeside trio making a mark with Munster in recent months
Jack O'Sullivan of Munster is tackled by Uzair Cassiem of Scarlets during the Guinness PRO14 Round 13 match between Munster and Scarlets at Thomond Park. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

THE Guinness PRO14 season is on hold due to the Coronavirus outbreak, which also restricted Munster's training plans.

Munster coach Johann van Graan must be pulling his hair out, just as he seemed to be getting his side back on track and into a groove with wins over Southern Kings and Scarlets, the season comes to a halt.

And what must be more disconcerting for the coach is not being able to get more performances from a trio of young Cork forwards.

John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes and Jack O’Sullivan have been in scintillating form over the last number of games while van Graan’s international contingent have been in Ireland camp.

The head coach enthused about Rosscarbery native Hodnett after Munster annihilated Southern Kings at Musgrave Park just over a month ago.

That was the night Hodnett made his debut and what a debut it was.

The 20-year-old UCC student covered ground more like a back-row who was making his 100th appearance for the province rather than his first start.

His support play, carries and tackles made him the standout player that night.

Not that anybody from either Clonakilty Rugby Club or Carbery Rangers GAA club would have been surprised.

That is the way he plays the game as he showed the previous season again at Musgrave Park against England in the U20 Six Nations Championship.

He made a huge break early in the game and looked like he might score but was stopped, his vision and game awareness helped him pick out Arno Botha for the first of his team’s 10 tries that night.

John Hodnett of Munster. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
John Hodnett of Munster. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The West Corkman also scored a cracking try in the second half of that game but when the PRO14 resumes — whenever that will be — he may be forced to play second fiddle again for a while in Munster’s international filled back-row.

That display certainly had van Graan enthusing about Hodnett who impressed the coach with his mental calmness before the game.

“I thought he was excellent tonight and what impressed me was that before the game he was calm and during the game he had some big moments,” he said.

“It’s great to get someone like that through the system.

“He’s from Cork and drives to Limerick a lot while studying down here and it just shows that we have some gems within the province,” said van Graan of Hodnett’s man of the match performance that night.

Trying to accommodate all his back rows and second rows, who have all now a week extra of recovery under their belts will be a job in itself when play eventually continues.

Another back-rower from Cork, Jack O’Sullivan, is going to be a name we’re going to see a lot move over the coming seasons.

But the player himself will probably be just looking at what has happened this season.

The Douglas native, a first cousin of Rory and Niall Scannell and son of team doctor Tadhg, has been another of the standout introductions this season for van Graan.

O’Sullivan’s progress though won’t have surprised too many people who follow schools rugby in Munster.

He missed out on one Senior Cup medal against Glenstal but made no mistake the second time around to captain PBC to a Munster Senior Cup in 2017.

In both competitions, he was the standout player and his pace was a telling factor for the Mardyke School as were his leadership qualities.

He has maintained those leadership qualities in the senior set up and don’t be surprised to see him captain the Reds at some stage in the future.

His three year senior contract shows that the Munster coaching ticket think highly of him and that was proved this season he made his European Champions Cup bow and wasn’t found wanting at the higher level against Ospreys.

His two great attributes are his power and speed. He showed his power to get over from close range fagainst Scarlets five minutes shy of half time to score a try and give Munster a 10-3 half time lead with his first try for the province.

He was unlucky not to score a couple of weeks earlier in Cork when he was hauled down shy of the line after a huge break out from defence.

And as important as O’Sullivan’s try was that night, it wasn’t as important as Skibbereen man Gavin Coombes pair that night at Thomond Park.

His greatest strength is his staying power. This give seems to have a battery that never dies and his try in the 84th minute against Scarlets earned what could be a season changing bonus point.

A hugely powerful man, he puts in some huge hits with his big frame but is able to move around the pitch quickly as well when required to do so.

Whether the trio will feature much with Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander and Jack O’Donoghue back in action after the enforced break remains to be seen; but from what van Graan has seen so far of the Leeside trio, he knows that the legacy created by Jim Williams, Anthony Foley et al is likely to continue with this triumvirate.

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