He may have grabbed the headlines on the night with a record-equalling try haul, but Dan Sheehan was quick to praise a team-mate’s individual achievement afterwards.
Sheehan became the eighth player, and first from Leinster, to score four tries in a United Rugby Championship match as Leinster ran out 42-10 bonus point winners over Benetton Rugby.
It was a blistering start to the young hooker’s 2022/23 campaign, and ten other players from Ireland’s summer tour to New Zealand also made their seasonal bows at the RDS.
One of them was prop Cian Healy who, having been sprung from the bench in the second half, became only the third Leinster player to reach 250 caps for the province. Gordon D’Arcy (257) is in his sights.
With the URC player-of-the-match medal around his neck, Sheehan spoke of his admiration for the Clontarf man who made his Leinster debut as a teenager back in 2007.
Praising Healy’s longevity and consistency of performance, he said: “It’s an unbelievable achievement to play 250 times for your province, and 118 times for your country. He’s got a serious number of professional games under his belt.
“He continues to perform week in and week out for us. He’s a massive asset to us and he’s great to have around the building.”
The 34-year-old Healy came on to a standing ovation from the home support, replacing Michael Ala’alatoa for the final 27 minutes as they made it back-to-back bonus point victories over Italian opposition.
Leinster’s collective front row were to the fore as the lineout maul provided the platform for a series of scores, directly for Sheehan’s first half hat-trick and also for a closing effort from scrum half Luke McGrath.
Knowing the strengths of Benetton up front, which were evident during last week’s 33-11 defeat of Glasgow Warriors, Sheehan noted: “We put a big focus all week on our maul, lineout and scrum. We knew Benetton were a good team, we saw them last week against Glasgow doing a job.
“We were all heightened about the mauling and the scrum, so we’re happy with tonight. It was great to be back at the RDS, to kick off the season here.
“I thought there was a great buzz all day. The boys did really well in front of me. Our pack was firing, the backs were playing off the back of that. It was a good night.”
With Ronan Kelleher now back from the shoulder injury that saw him miss Ireland’s summer tour, the battle for the number 2 jerseys at Leinster and Ireland will be a fascinating one as the season progresses.
Hooker is certainly an area of strength for Leo Cullen’s men, and while hailing Sheehan’s try-scoring exploits, the head coach spoke about the intense competition for places in the position.
“I was just saying in the (coaches’) box, I’m not sure I scored four tries in my whole career,” quipped Cullen. “He did it and was taken off with 30 (minutes) to go! Dan, he’s very dynamic in lots of aspects of the game.
“Clearly, the forwards laid a pretty good platform for him on a few of those drives. But, yeah, he’s looked sharp. Even Ronan was good when he came on too, I thought he looked sharp too.
“Those guys are pushing each other on, which is great to see. James Tracy is out injured at the moment, so we’ve a couple of Academy hookers involved in the seniors as well. No, the two lads are driving each other on well.”
Second row Jason Jenkins has started his Leinster career with quite an impact. The powerful South African scored a try last week against Zebre Parma and marked his home debut with some key involvements.
“Particularly in the tight play, in terms of game style the way we would play is probably a little bit different to what Jason is used to, so it’s going to take him a bit of time,” admitted Cullen.
“But, lots of good moments in terms of some of the close exchanges in particular. You can see even the maul as well, the impact that he has there, and it’s such an important facet of the game now.
“Hopefully Jason will kick on and go from strength to strength. Guys have had a decent start, but they’ll be excited about the trip to Belfast (to play Ulster next week).”