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Liam Turner determined to seize chance to shine for Leinster in South Africa

The versatile player says he hopes performances against the Lions and Stormers will ‘create headaches for the selectors’

As has been the case for two-match URC South African safaris in between a Champions Cup quarter-final and semi-final, the frontline men have remained in UCD while Leo Cullen digs deep into his squad. So be it. The seasons come in many layers. At Leinster, you have to cut your teeth.

Two years ago, Jamie Osborne, Ciarán Frawley and Harry Byrne were all part of a callow squad that dug deep to ensure a first-place seeding in the knockout stages with bonus points in defeats against the Sharks and the Stormers. Two years on, they are among those excused from duty in South Africa.

A year ago, along with Sam Prendergast and others in an equally inexperienced squad, Liam Turner started in both the remarkable 39-36 comeback win from 15 points down against the Lions and also the rather more chastening 62-7 beating in Loftus Versfeld against the Bulls.

A year on, it looks as if Turner will have a similar role, and he’s grateful for it. Such is life at Leinster. You are given chances and you have to grasp them. Now 24, he’s only played 27 times for the province over the last three seasons, with seven games this season.


“At the start of the season it was a frustrating time for me personally. But I got my first opportunity, after not playing for a while, off the bench against Connacht, and felt like I had a good impact when I came on.

“As the season has progressed, I feel like I have put in some good performances over the last couple of months and that’s all you can really do, create as many headaches for the selectors as you can.”

In another era, who knows how many Leinster caps Turner might have had by now. He captained Blackrock College to the 2018 Leinster Schools Senior Cup, beating Belvedere College in the final, and was an influential, ever-present in Ireland’s Under-20 Grand Slam in 2019.

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Turner is a versatile and intelligent all-round player. He punches above his weight by dint of being a very strong defender, and by all accounts a good communicator. He’s also a good link player, who runs support lines, as evidenced by his try in an eye-catching 30-minue cameo off the bench in the win over the Bulls a fortnight ago.

“That’s all you can really do whether it’s 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes coming off the bench, you’ve just got to take those opportunities that come your way.”

A boyhood Leinster fan, for all his frustrations about the midfield logjam in Leinster, Turner is not inclined to seek pastures new.

“I’ve been supporting this province since I was six or seven. I was at the ‘09 semi-final with my dad at Croke Park. You want to be here in Leinster. The drive in the club, and the bond that we all have, it’s an incredible place to play and be a part of.

“I feel like I’ve a long way to go in this club and I want to put my hand up in this club. Obviously, you have to review over a certain while on how things are going and be realistic with yourself, but I’m as hungry as ever to be successful and to be part of winning teams here so for the moment all my heart and my eyes are set on this club.”

Like Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien, Turner took an enjoyable and productive detour with the Ireland Sevens team in 2020 but, diplomatically, he is not of a mind to jump on to their Olympics bandwagon.

“I absolutely loved my time there,” he says, but he notes how “settled” the Sevens squad is now. “I think they’re going to punch really well and they’ve a great chance of getting a medal and the path that they’re setting now is one they want to keep.”

Turner has maintained a balance in his life by completing a four-year degree in business and economics at Trinity, and has since rejoined Blackrock in their Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B campaign.

“Stradbrook is actually right next door to my parents’ house and I’ve played for them since under-5s. I’ve played one game for them this season, against Naas.”

The opposition featured a certain Seán O’Brien.

“He was standing on the wing waiting for the ball. He was playing 6 or 8.”

So, Turner had no chance to land a good shot on the Leinster legend turned assistant coach.

“I was lining him up but then he gave the tip pass so he obviously didn’t want the hit!”

It’s been perhaps a mixed blessing that Turner is an outside centre from the same school that produced some bloke called O’Driscoll, not to mention Garry Ringrose. That makes the 13 jersey somewhat hallowed for a Blackrock/Leinster boy.

“My debut was against Zebre but unfortunately it was during Covid so it was an empty stadium and none of my family could be there,” says Turner, recalling that game at the RDS in October 2021. “But I remember [the 13 jersey]hanging up and looking at it. ‘Jeeze, this is a bit wild.’ You had to pinch yourself the odd time and think: ‘Is this real?’”

Turner has never actually met his boyhood hero.

“Funnily enough, he nearly hit me with a golf ball in Courtown once but that’s about the most interaction I’ve ever had with him.”

Then Turner adds, laughing: “No ‘Fore’ call from him either!”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times