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Ryan Baird soaring to new heights as he adds lineout calling to considerable skillset

Forward has blended remarkable athleticism with a dedication to hard graft

Gone in 60 seconds. It’s a catchy title. Rugby’s equivalent played out at the Aviva Stadium right on the minute mark. Leinster’s first lineout, Ryan Baird’s first call, Ultan Dillane and La Rochelle’s first steal, an action that temporarily sucked the noise, raucous and expectant from the opening whistle, out of the stadium.

Would it be one of those days where La Rochelle again trample on Leinster’s European hopes and dreams in a Champions Cup knockout match? In that moment, the anxiety level among the blue-clad supporters in the stands was palpable.

What was going through Baird’s mind is unknown, but it would have been a little disconcerting to have the first lineout go astray, especially as he shortened it to a four-man and called it on himself at the front. It was a timing play, but Dillane, Baird’s La Rochelle counterpart out of touch, beat his opponent to the ball.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen had made two changes to the starting pack from the win over the Leicester Tigers, Jason Jenkins and Will Connors promoted to the run-on team. A knock-on effect was that Baird took over the lineout calling duties from Ross Molony.


It is a remit which the 24-year-old Baird has embraced with the zeal required to consume large quantities of video analysis. Leinster captain Caelan Doris explained: “I think he’s got a very good attitude, a great mindset and works very hard and puts a ton of time into lineout attack and defence in particular.

“The analysis he does and the plan he puts in place along with the other secondrows has been great. He’s developed in that area a lot over the last probably five or six months.”

No different from a place-kicker or a hooker, mental resilience is paramount to being able to be next task focused when calling the lineout. Arguably an equally pivotal moment arrived just shy of three minutes, Leinster’s second lineout. Baird called it on Jason Jenkins at two, a sensible ploy that yielded the desired outcome.

A word here for Jenkins, who produced one of his best performances in the jersey and thoroughly vindicated his selection. He won five lineouts and had the second highest tackle count (10) on the team in his 50 minutes, even more laudable considering that Doris with 13 played an additional 20 minutes to the South African. It wasn’t just the volume but the aggression and the quality of his clearing out at the breakdown.

Five minutes in and Baird won Leinster’s third lineout and when La Rochelle get their first of the game on 10-minutes, Leinster’s blindside flanker was a fingernail width from pickpocketing Judicaël Cancoriet to the ball having correctly identified the target of the throw. Baird leads his team in lineout steals in the tournament (five).

Doris was twice penalised at restarts, the first for sealing off, the second for not releasing in the tackle. La Rochelle, having experienced joy in that regard, continued to kick to the same position on the pitch but Leinster reconfigured their reception party. Baird assumed the responsibility on the next two occasions as he got into the air with a little help from lifters.

In between those two moments, he came up with a big play after La Rochelle had kicked a penalty to the corner down at the Havelock Square end, but Baird insinuated his way into the French club’s maul to force a knock-on turnover and a scrum to the home side.

Penalised for jumping across the space, Baird could only watch as La Rochelle doubled down by going to the corner again in first half injury time. Jenkins is thrown in the air but cannot intercept the throw and the French club are rewarded for going to the back to Grégory Alldritt where the home side are unable to defend the maul; prop Louis Penverne is adjudged to have grounded the ball.

Baird dominated the opening throes of the post interval action, took the kickoff, dirtied La Rochelle possession on a throw and then starts and finishes a passage of play that goes a long way to deciding the outcome.

He won the lineout and when play next returned to that touchline, following a prolonged softening up process, Lowe’s pass enabled him to get outside and past Jack Nowell and through Antoine Hastoy’s brittle attempted tackle for a try, a fitting reward for his efforts.

Baird has blended remarkable athleticism with a dedication to hard graft on behalf of the team and all the while assuming a leadership role. There isn’t a cause that lost when he is chasing it as several La Rochelle players discovered, particularly Tawera Kerr Barlow and Ihaia West.

He continued to have a pronounced influence right up to the final whistle. Cullen entrusted Baird with the lineout, one that had an 85 per cent success rate going into the match. Against La Rochelle it reached the 91st percentile, a badge of honour for Baird, which not only makes all the hard work worthwhile but also highlights his growth in a leadership capacity.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer