The Leinster Academy panel for the 2014/15 season has been announced. Six Leinster Academy graduates have received professional contracts from the province and will be part of their senior squad for the new season.
Of the eight Year 1 recruits in the Leinster Academy panel for the 2014/15 season, seven were part of the Ireland Under-20 squad that reached the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championship in New Zealand last month.
Discussing the Academy roster for the new season with LeinsterRugby.ie, Leinster Academy Manager Girvan Dempsey spoke of the impact the new Academy recruits had in the recent Junior World Championship.
"They are really exciting players, they had big influences on the tournament and on the Irish Under-20s through the Six Nations," he said.
"I think they're a really good bunch and they've all come through our sub-Academy programme as well and gained the benefits of that year."
There are eight players in their final year with the Leinster Academy, including Jordan Coghlan who has had his time in the Academy extended by one year after a series of injuries last season.
"Jordan Coghlan, like Sam Coghlan Murray last year, has had his Academy term extended by a year due to a series of lengthy injuries during his time at the Academy," explained Dempsey.
"His development was hampered and the precedent was there with Sam Coghlan Murray who was in a similar situation in his Academy term. Sam had a number of injuries and illnesses and he missed out on big chunks of his development.
"Last year he played in the region of 26 games, was a prominent player for the 'A' team in the British & Irish Cup, got recognised on the back of that and got a development contract until the end of the year."
Another player who has received a professional contract is Jack Conan. The young back rower was in his second year with the Academy last season, but he has been signed up to a professional contract a year ahead of schedule.
"Jack progressed well last year and was rewarded with a senior contract," said Dempsey of the former St. Gerard's student.
As well as Coghlan Murray and Conan, Tadhg Furlong, Luke McGrath, Colm O'Shea and James Tracy have also received professional contracts.
Of the two remaining Year 3 Academy players, Conor Gilsenan and Andrew Boyle were both released. Gilsenan has since gone on to sign a professional contract with London Irish.
With pre-season now well underway for the Academy, Dempsey was pleased to report that his players are fit and hungry for the new season to begin, with many hopeful of impressing Matt O'Connor ahead of the pre-season friendlies against Northampton Saints and Ulster.
"Pre-season's gone really well. They've all come back in good shape. Fitness testing the first week went well.
"They've all shown a really good appetite and hunger, and they're looking forward to trying to impress Matt and the new coaches and hopefully get some game time during the pre-season matches against Northampton and Ulster.
"We had 12 Academy players playing in the pre-season friendlies last year, we'd hope to have a number of players again involved in the pre-season friendly games in a few weeks' time. I think it's a great opportunity for them to show their capabilities to the senior coaches."
Dempsey is also looking forward to the challenges of a new season that will see all six British & Irish Cup pool matches completed before the turn of the year.
Discussing the upcoming season with LeinsterRugby.ie, the former Ireland full-back admitted: "It's exciting and challenging because it's condensed. Our first game will be the first weekend in October. That will be an 'A' interprovincial, the same weekend the seniors play Munster.
"Then we lead into three British & Irish Cup games: Plymouth, Jersey and the Welsh qualifier team. It's challenging but it's going to be exciting."
LEINSTER RUGBY ACADEMY PANEL - 2014/15 SEASON:
Year 1 -
Harrison Brewer, Ross Byrne, Ian Fitzpatrick, Cian Kelleher, Nick McCarthy, Rory O'Loughlin, Garry Ringrose, Peadar Timmins
Year 2 -
Adam Byrne, Steve Crosbie, Thomas Daly, Billy Dardis, Peter Dooley, Thomas Farrell, Ross Molony
Year 3 -
Tadhg Beirne, Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrne, Jordan Coghlan, Daniel Leavy, Cathal Marsh, Gavin Thornbury, Josh van der Flier
Munster winger Simon Zebo says the province will have to recapture their best form if they are to overcome Saracens in round 2 of the European Champions Cup and maintain their winning start to the tournament.
Chris Henry believes Ulster can put the pain of an opening defeat to Leicester Tigers behind them and get their European Champions Cup campaign back on track against a star-studded Toulon team on Saturday.