Stuart Lancaster says Jordan Larmour has similar traits to the Kiwi playmaker.
ASK STUART LANCASTER about Jordan Larmour playing at fullback for Leinster, as the 21-year-old did last weekend against Scarlets, and the senior coach makes an interesting comparison.
“He reminds me of the threat that Damian McKenzie brings for the All Blacks,” says Lancaster. “You don’t know what he is going to do and when he is going to do it and that unpredictability sets Jordan apart from other players I have coached recently.
“So what you’ll find is at 15 he is a really good option, because if you kick to him then something is liable to happen.
“But he didn’t just run everything back [against Scarlets], he gave good intelligent kicking behind the front line but it was probably the combination of him and James Lowe, and interesting speaking to James Lowe, who played with Damian MacKenzie, I think he sparks off that type of player. I think the combination works well for us.”
Ask Jordan Larmour himself about Lancaster’s comparison and he smiles.
“He hasn’t told me that!”
The six-times capped Ireland international is unfazed, however, and while he achieved so much in his breakthrough year last season, Larmour is extremely focused on going better again this season. His first outing last weekend was promising.
The combination with Lowe very nearly resulted in a superb Leinster try in the 19th minute against Scarlets, with Larmour sparking a sweeping kick return attack.
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It was notable to see Larmour kick returning straight upfield in this manner on a handful of occasions against Scarlets, heading directly back towards the source of the kick rather than moving the ball infield, as might be more traditional in these situations.
He explains that the defensive chase from Scarlets provided him with the cues to attack.
“Lowe was there and they only had two in the trams, so there would have been a bit of space if I got outside the first guy and the winger might have to bite on me, then I could play Lowey,” says Larmour. “That was my thought process when I was doing that.
“Sometimes you might have three or four in the trams, so you shift it wide. Or there might be someone slow in the chase line, so you can exploit that space if someone makes the gate for you. You’re trying to read the defence and see what they’re doing.”
With Jake Ball and Tom Prydie ‘in the trams’ – defending in the 15-metre channel – and marking up two-on-two, the Scarlets might have felt they were in a decent initial position to defend the kick return.
However, Larmour’s rapid footwork to get to the outside of second row Ball makes him a linebreaking threat.
As we can see below, Larmour accentuates his footwork by briefly tucking the ball into his outside arm and throwing up a dummy fend, inviting Prydie to bite in on the Leinster fullback, worried as he is that Larmour will break.
As Prydie bites in onto Larmour, leaving Lowe unmarked, the Leinster fullback gets his right hand back onto the ball and executes the simple pass into space.
Typically, Lowe comes up with something creative in return, drawing in Gareth Davies behind the line as he jumps off his left foot to return a basketball-style pass inside to Larmour.
Larmour very nearly accelerates outside Leigh Halfpenny but the Scarlets fullback manages to hold onto his right leg, forcing Larmour to offload – the offload floating just forward.
“I was looking back on it,” says Larmour when asked if he could have done anything differently. “I could probably have had it in my left hand and given it one of them [a one-handed catflap offload], or maybe if I saw Locko [Rory O’Loughlin] coming up a bit earlier…
“I didn’t realise he was coming until late and I probably forced it a bit. Maybe if I had more time, had a bit of a look, I could have seen Locko coming and given him a pass in behind.”
As well as that ball-in-hand counter-attacking, it was positive for Leinster to see Larmour deliver a pair of good kicks against Scarlets too.
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“There was a bit of space in the backfield and I put the ball there,” says Larmour. “Last year, maybe I wouldn’t have done that – I would have caught the ball and just tried to go for it. In that regard, seeing the space in the backfield [is something he’s improved on].
“You’re kind of reacting to what defences are doing, especially off counter-attack. Sometimes there might be space in the backfield, someone might make a gate for you [to run through], or there might be an overlap or something like that.
“You’re looking up, scanning and reading the defences and trying to pick a hole. If there’s space in behind, you put the ball there.”
Of course, Larmour was turned over once against Scarlets when he opted to return a kick with ball in hand and found himself gobbled up by Blade Thomson and James Davies.
He feels he’s become better at moving on swiftly from that kind of error, while still studying it in detail post-match to learn from it.
An important challenge for him at fullback is ensuring he is consistently involved in the action, particularly in games like last weekend’s against Scarlets.
In that contest, Larmour had no direct involvement – a touch of the ball or a tackle – from the 31st minute until the 54th, testing his powers of concentration.
“I suppose at 15, you’re always just following the play, following the ball and trying to read the number 10′s body language to see if he’s going to kick or not.
“Once you get the ball, we talk about being the extra man and maybe sitting in behind someone at the back of a shape and then coming around on the outside of him to be the extra man.
“You’re always thinking ‘Where can I go?’ because the middle third of the game was pretty quiet, we were defending for a lot of it so at times it can be hard to be involved in the game.
“I like to be involved in the game early, get a few touches – a carry, a tackle… if you’re out of the game a long time, especially if you make a mistake, it can hang over you.
“You try not to, but it’s sometimes in the back of your head that you made a mistake.. at times it’s challenging, but most of the time you’re staying focused, staying in the system because that’s your role.”
Larmour feels there is much more to come in his game this season, for Leinster and Ireland.
Being compared to creative 18-cap All Black McKenzie is something Larmour takes in his stride, pointing out that he can learn from many players in the game.
“I think it’s important to be open-minded and see how other players play, how they operate,” says Larmour.
“Damian McKenzie is an unbelievable player, so trying to add a few things off him, new ideas might help my game a bit.
“Earlsy [Keith Earls], for me, I like to watch him a lot and see how he goes about his business. He’s an unbelievable player, so you’re trying to get better and improve. Anything that will help that, you want to incorporate into your game somehow.”
McKenzie plays at fullback and out-half for the All Blacks, while Larmour has a similarly versatile edge.
It will be interesting to see whether he settles at fullback or on the wing in the long-term, while he has played at outside centre too. Whatever the position, Leinster have one of the most exciting talents in the game on their hands.
“You have Rob Kearney wanting some game time soon, so Jordan could easily slide onto the wing and what we don’t want to do is to pigeonhole him as that guy who has got to stay on the wing all the time,” says Lancaster.
“He just has to get that balance right when he is on the wing of being on the edge to score tries, but equally getting the ball in his hands.”
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