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History beckons in New Zealand as Leinster contingent look to seize their moment

PICTURE: 

A season that promised so much ultimately ended in disappointment.

Leinster reflect on what might have been, amidst the obvious frustration, they will be encouraged by several aspects of the campaign, not least the emergence of further exciting young talent.

The painful memories of the Heineken Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle in Marseille, and the United Rugby Championship (URC) semi-final loss to the Bulls will linger for a while, however, there is no doubt that Leinster are in a strong position to bounce back next season.
 
With an Academy and School's system that is the envy of most clubs around the world, Leinster are better equipped than most to come up with the solutions.
 
As most of the rugby public's attention now turns to Ireland's mouth-watering summer tour to New Zealand, rest assured Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will already have begun their deep dive into why Leinster came up short in Europe and in the URC.
 
For the 20 Leinster players lucky enough to have been selected in Andy Farrell's 40-strong Ireland squad, the next few weeks will occupy their minds, while those back home take a well-earned break before returning for pre-season.
 
Safe in the knowledge that next year's Champions Cup final will be held at the Aviva Stadium, there will be even greater motivation in the Leinster ranks to complete the 'drive for five' and add that elusive fifth star to their jersey.
 
A quick glance at the Ireland squad will tell you that Leinster's strength in depth is in rude health because outside of the vastly experienced campaigners such as captain Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong, there is a plethora of exciting young stars who have earned their seat on the plane to New Zealand.
 
Of the five uncapped faces in Farrell's squad, three are Leinster players, with Ciarán Frawley, Jimmy O'Brien and Joe McCarthy all selected on merit.
 
Crucially, the trio have previously spent time in Ireland camp, which is generally an indication that a first cap isn't too far away. Of course, once you step foot into the High Performance Centre (HPC) in Dublin, you must deliver, and Frawley, O'Brien and McCarthy are known to have impressed the Ireland coaches.

Frawley has enjoyed another fine season in which his reputation has been enhanced, even if he faces stiff competition for game-time from the likes of Henshaw.

The Skerries man's versatility in that he can play centre or out-half is hugely valuable, especially when it comes to a tour at the other side of the world. An outstanding playmaker, there is a sense that Frawley (24) can really kick on to even greater heights over the next few weeks. 
 
O'Brien's breakthrough season has felt like a long time coming, yet given the calibre of players vying for spots in the Leinster back-line, that's hardly a surprise. Like his good friend Hugo Keenan, O'Brien (25) previously spent time in the Ireland Sevens setup – a worthwhile experience which has clearly stood to him.
 
The Kildare native has made the Leinster right wing spot his own, with his four tries in Bath earlier this year, the highlight of an excellent campaign. McCarthy may be the youngest of the uncapped Leinster trio at 21, yet the powerful lock has been ear-marked as a future star from a long way out.

Having impressed in school with Blackrock and later in college with Trinity, Cullen, in tandem with Farrell, has been keen to fast track his development. McCarthy looks certain to feature in New Zealand, it is merely a question of whether it will be in the Test Series against the All Blacks or in the two clashes with the Māori All Blacks.

As well as the uncapped Leinster players hoping for their Ireland debuts, the likes of Dan Sheehan, Harry Byrne and Ryan Baird have won less than 10 caps. Sheehan looks set to play a prominent role against the All Blacks, particularly in light of Rónan Kelleher's untimely shoulder injury, which has ruled him out of the tour.

Sheehan's meteoric rise is best summed up by the fact that he was crowned Young Player of the Year at Leinster's recent annual awards ceremony. The all-action hooker is an outstanding talent and despite his relative inexperience and the fact that he is still only 23, Sheehan will have a major say in whether Ireland can beat New Zealand on home soil for the first time.

Harry Byrne gets a big chance to impress at out-half after edging out his older brother Ross from the squad, as Baird looks to remind everyone of his undoubted potential in the back-row.

Fresh from sweeping the boards at this year's awards, Josh van der Flier will look to build again, while there is a welcome return from injury for Jordan Larmour, who finished the season well with Leinster.
 
As ever, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Jack Conan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Garry Ringrose, James Lowe, and Hugo Keenan will be front and centre in Ireland's plans.
It promises to be an enthralling tour in New Zealand, and with Leinster once again heavily influencing proceedings, there will be no better way of easing the disappointment of the season just gone, by creating history in the All Blacks' backyard.  
 
Written by: Cian Tracey, Rugby Writer, Irish Independent

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