- 01 Feb 19
Having flirted with them in 2018, Jordan Larmour's relationship with Irish rugby fans is this year going to develop into a full blown love affair. Grand Slam triumphs, beating the All Blacks, the Rugby World Cup, and er, Post Malone are all up for discussion as he meets a frankly envious Stuart Clark.
A spot of advice: best not to hang out with Jordan Larmour if youıve self-esteem issues.
While some of us have reached 55 with only a Junior Cycling Proficiency Test certificate and an Under-11 Primary Schools' Football Cup runners-up medal - their winner was yards offside! - to show for our sporting efforts, the 21-year-old's first full season playing senior rugby yielded Six Nations, Champions Cup and PRO14 winners medals.
Add in a World Rugby's Breakthrough Player of the Year nomination - the accolade eventually went to South Africa winger Aphiwe Dyantyi - and it's no wonder that the Ireland and Leinster starlet has oval ball fans here salivating ahead of this year's Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on September 20 and will hopefully require Joe Schmidt's men to remain in Japan until November 2.
Such a rapid rise to prominence could go to a young man's head, but Jordan is affability and modesty personified as we sit down for a chinwag in Engeria Park, so chosen because of the titular electricity provider's new multi-year partnership with Larmour and broader support of Leinster Rugby.
It's the second day of January and judging by his fresh-faced demeanour - don't be surprised if his next endorsement deal is with Nivea For Men - Jordan didnıt spend New Year's Eve in the VIP section at Coppers.
"I had Leinster training the next day, which you do not want to be under the weather for, so I was at home tucked up in bed," he laughs. "When you have a break in games thereıll be a night out. We had our Christmas party two weeks ago, which was good fun. I've been hearing a lot about Robbie Henshawıs musical prowess, but we didn't manage to get a tune out of him."
Asked what his expectations had been ushering in 2018, he says: "Well, they certainly weren't what's happened. A good year for me would have just been becoming a regular in the Leinster set-up. I was shocked when I got called up for the Six Nations - and even more shocked to be involved in three of the games. Winning the Grand Slam, going to Australia and playing in the three tests there and then beating the All Blacks - it's been a crazy year to be honest!"
A lot of people think that Jordan making his Irish debut last February against Italy was prompted by the slaloming wonder try he scored in Leinster's December 2017 defeat of Munster, but Joe Schmidt had been keeping close tabs on him for several years.
"I was in the Ireland camp a few times when I was with the under-20s, so I got a little taste of how he operates and what he expects of you," Jordan recalls. "It was really motivating to be at the training ground with the stars I'd grown up watching and dreamed of playing with. It was really cool to see the whole dynamic of the group."
How does Joe Schmidt compare to his Leinster gaffer, Leo Cullen?
"I'm extremely lucky to have those two people coaching me. They're similar enough in their microscopic attention to detail and their man management, which is extremely good."
Did he manage to absorb every detail of the Italy game or was it all a bit of a blur?
"I tried to treat it like any other game - I'd taken on all the little details I needed to during the week - but, yeah, there were a few nerves just before walking out onto the pitch. You always get a few butterflies before kick-off. It was a shame that my coming on in the 45th minute was a result of Robbie (Henshaw) dislocating his shoulder, but, yeah, having my family there to watch me play my first Six Nations game was really special."
After only getting six minutes against Scotland in Ireland's second Six Nations win, Jordan celebrated St. Patrick's Day with a massive performance against England, which saw him win 83% of his tackles.
"I came on with half-an-hour to go, which was a lot more minutes than I thought I'd get. It was nerve-wracking but once I got stuck in I was okay. With maybe 20 minutes to go, I moved into the centre. Having Garry (Ringrose) there, Johnny (Sexton) inside me and Rob (Kearney) at the back made it a lot easier for me to fit in. It was a really special day."
Does he have a regular Ireland roommate yet?
"I share with Andrew Porter a good bit."
Does he snore?
"Yes! I just throw pillows at him the whole night!"
If you think we're overstating just how good Jordan Larmour is, consider the words of former England coach Stuart Lancaster, now on the staff at Leinster, who's watched the quantum leaps in his development.
"Whether he's in the 15 shirt or any shirt really, he reminds me of the threat that Damian McKenzie brings for the All Blacks, so you don't know what he is going to do and when heıs going to do it," Lancaster observes. "That unpredictability sets Jordan apart from other players I've coached recently. At 15 he's a really good option because if you kick to him then something is liable to happen."
If Irish hopes of winning the World Cup were high after the Grand Slam, they're now at fever pitch following Ireland's second smiting of New Zealand in two years.
A 65th minute replacement for Rob Kearney, Larmour dealt brilliantly with the physicality of the All Blacks. How did Joe Schmidt prep them for the game?
"We talked during the week about attacking them rather than being on the back foot; we needed to take the game to them in every aspect," he reveals. "The main things were fronting up and winning the physical battles that you know with the All Blacks are going to be all over the pitch. There were a lot of sore bodies after that game, lads just throwing themselves into contact. It paid off."
That it did. Jordan's quick to acknowledge the support he's received from senior squad members.
"Johnny Sexton is very good, as are Rory Best, Keith Earls and Rob Kearney. There's a good group of leaders who, if there's a break in play, will bring us in to have a chat. They'll also say a few words before a game and at halftime when appropriate. Everyone is there to help you get better and improve."
While his Leinster teammates worked on their golf handicaps, Jordan spent a sizable chunk of 2018 studying the psychological side of the game.
"Yeah, me and Josh van der Flier did Dr. Olivia Hurleyıs Certificate in Sports Psychology at IADT," he reveals. "Unfortunately, I missed about eight weeks of it, but it was still hugely beneficial. Say, for instance, you make a mistake during a game; you need to block it out and move on to the next moment. Every rugby player's going to have injuries, so you need to know how to cope with them. The key is setting yourself little goals throughout the week to pass the time and avoid you feeling that, 'Oh my God, this is the longest thing ever' Mentally you have to be strong."
Olympic sprinter David Gillick, hockey player Shane O'Donoghue, jockey Sophie Vard-Ryan, hurler Tony óg Regan and boxer John Joyce are among the other elite athletes that Hurley has helped with the mental side of their performances.
"It translates across all sports," Jordan adds. "I'd recommend the course to anybody interested in the subject."
Talking to Hot Press following Irelandıs pugnacious November 2017 encounter with South Africa - Joe Schmidt couldıve done with bringing Anthony Joshua on in the latter stages - Bundee Aki said that one of the key differences between provincial and international rugby is the ferocity of the hits.
"The Springboks are big fellas," Jordan nods. "Yeah, the physicality does go up a notch. We talk a lot about two man tackles - y'know, two of their guys clattering into you at the same time. The pace of the game goes up a bit too. If you're a second too slow at a ruck, it'll be a turnover. You've got to be on point in every aspect, really."
When Hot Press first met Robbie Henshaw at a stage of his career similar to Jordan Larmourıs now, he was devouring all in front of him as per the instructions of the Connacht coaching staff who wanted him to put on 15kg. Has Jordan similarly had to bulk up?
"Did my mum feed me three Christmas dinners?" he laughs. "No! I always loved going to the gym, so as a teenager even I was quite strong. I never thought, "I'm too small, I need to get bigger." I was always happy with my numbers in the gym."
Who's been his toughest international opponent to date?
"When we were in Australia last summer, David Pocock was so good and tough to stop."
The Wallabies' openside flanker being 6ft and 16st 3lb compared to Jordanıs 5ft 10in and 14st 5lb.
"At international level, pretty much every player is quality and tough. You just need to be on your A game all the time."
Beating Australia twice in their own backyard is another reason why Ireland at 7/2 are second only to an evens New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup betting.
"That was a huge tour," Jordan agrees. "It was my first time in Australia, which is a really cool place. The week we got there we did a bit of exploring and some jet skiing. Again, coming on quite early in two of the tests, I got a lot more minutes than I expected to get. After the defeat in the opening game, we talked about how massive it'd be to come back from 1-0 down and beat them 2-1. It was a really good learning experience and I loved every minute of it."
We all know how tough a Pool A opponent Scotland will be, but has Jordan been having sneaky looks at video clips of Japan, Russia and Samoa to see what theyıll be bringing to the World Cup party?
"Not really because itıs quite far away and weıve been focusing on the Six Nations and the big Leinster games weıve got coming up. You try to stay in the present and not get too far ahead of yourself."
Cards on the table time: does he think that Ireland can win the World Cup?
"We believe that if we play to our full potential we can beat anybody," he says, which weıre taking as a 'Yes, weıre going to go to Japan, whoop everybodyıs asses and kickstart the biggest pre-Christmas party this or any other country has ever seen. And then some..."
For all of his breaking into the Irish squad, Jason hasnıt been able to get anywhere near the team hi-fi yet.
"James Ryan is in charge of the tunes. He's always making playlists, which have to include a bit of Christy Moore! I have my own music on shuffle, which is stuff like Post Malone and Khalid. I'm a bit of a hip hop boy!"
Lest we leave Leinster fans feeling short-changed, what about that balmy May night in Bilbao where they beat Racing 92 15-12 to get their paws on the Champions Cup for the fourth time?
"That was extremely special," Jordan beams again. "Our captain Isa Nacewa, who was retiring, kicked the winning penalty in the 78th minute so it had a real fairytale quality to it. He's such a legend at the club. I'm glad I got to experience how selfless Isa is and how hard he works for the team firsthand. Wherever he goes now, as a coach presumably, he'll do a great job. The PRO14 final against Scarlets in the Aviva is another standout, and I really enjoyed the victory before Christmas at Bath, which is a tough place to go. The weather was horrible, which made the high balls and kick-ins quite difficult, but we adjusted well to the conditions. To then beat Connacht in the PRO14 in Dublin made it a very good Christmas!"