The fact that Scott Penny has never played a Champions Cup rugby game for the province speaks volumes about the depth of back-row talent at Leinster.
The 23-year-old flanker will make his 43rd appearance for the province tonight at the Aviva Stadium, with each of those competing in the BKT United Rugby Championship.
Penny was just 19 when he made his debut for the province in November 2018, scoring a try in each of his first two appearances against the Ospreys and Dragons.
His transition to professional play was smooth, and arguably had he worn a red, green or white provincial jersey, he would have been a regular at European matches.
He was due to make his Champions Cup debut last December against Montpellier, before the Covid-19 outbreak in the province denied him the opportunity. His patience, however, appears to be paying off, impressing during the emerging Ireland’s recent tour of South Africa, while also earning a call-up to the Irish ‘A’ team for next month’s encounter with an All Blacks XV in Dublin.
With Josh van der Flier injured, this opened up a place in the back row for Penny, who starts alongside Max Deegan and Caelan Doris against Munster. And although he has started and scored in this game before, it looks like the spotlight is shining more on him tonight, in what looks to be a very solid Leinster line-up.
“Scott has been such a consistent player for us, he’s missed some of the biggest days over the last two seasons. It’s a big step up for him in this game,” his head coach Leo Cullen said.
“Between him and Max [Deegan], they both went well in these emerging Ireland games. The feedback has been very positive on both of them.”
With a staggering 23 tries in just 42 games, only Dan Sheehan and James Lowe can compare to his strike rate, with the most recent of those tries coming in the last Leinster-Munster derby in May.
And Cullen says his ability to read the game is one of the reasons he finds himself at the end of so many scores.
“He’s a very smart player to start with, so he gets into good positions, and the ‘2’s and ‘7’s at the back of the mauls can score a lot of tries, at the back of the plate. -form that the attackers have put in place.
“But even in terms of pick-and-go work close to the line, he’s got a good low center of gravity and he’s very, very strong, Scott, so he scores a lot of tries from close range. So he It would be nice if he had a couple tomorrow,” Cullen added.
Penny is joined in the back row by Max Deegan at the blind flank and Caelan Doris at number eight, with Munster’s Gavin Coombes, John Hodnett and Jack O’Donoghue for the opposition in what looks to be an excellent back row game.
And with Doris and Deegan paired with No. 8, Cullen says his picks are all about finding a balance between all three.
“It’s just a combination and Caelan plays ‘eight’, he likes to be in the heart of the action.
“The ‘six’ role for us, Max is a great line jumper. When we talk about the ‘six’ it’s often that ‘six’ role.
“Max is also very effective in the wider channels. Six often holds the advantage for us a bit more. We think we have a good balance there, but again, it’s relatively young in terms of six , seven and eight.
“It’s a good challenge, obviously Munster have a relatively young back row as well, I know Jack O’Donoghue is in there, he’s been a bit more in the neighborhood.
“Hodnett would have been on tour with the two guys [Deegan and Penny]. They get along pretty well, I’m sure.”
Leinster have been boosted by confirmation that James Ryan overcame an injury scare to start, while Jack Conan is also expected to be on the bench after being a doubt. Conditions should also be favorable for good rugby in Dublin, with dry weather forecast a change from Leinster’s other two Interpro games this season against Ulster and Connacht.
“We hope the conditions will allow it to be a bit smoother. The Ulster game started pretty well and then the conditions were awful from around 30 minutes. I thought the roof of the stand was falling on us with the rain and the same again last week.
“They should be better tomorrow and if they are then hopefully we can play the kind of game we want to play, but you have to be able to adapt to the day. That’s the beauty of the game, where the conditions can be a real leveler every day.”
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