In an early-season landscape that leaves the Irish provinces without their frontline internationals, a lot of responsibility falls on overseas signings.
Leinster are hopeful that the experience, leadership and skillset of Australian import Joe Tomane can help steer last season’s double winners through a tricky start to their Guinness PRO14 title defence and both head coach Leo Cullen and captain Johnny Sexton are confident their side is in safe hands with the versatile back, signed during the summer
Leinster begin their title defence with back-to-back trips to Wales, facing a revitalised Cardiff Blues in the PRO14 season opener tomorrow night at the Arms Park before returning a week later to face last season’s runners-up Scarlets, the then-defending champions defeated by Cullen’s side at the Aviva Stadium in May.
The 28-year-old former Wallaby centre seems like an ideal replacement for retired skipper Isa Nacewa.
His experience with the Brumbies in Super Rugby and the French Top 14 at Montpellier as well as his ability to play in a number of positions across the backline, as Nacewa did, could prove invaluable, particularly with Sexton and his fellow Grand Slam winners sidelined by IRFU player welfare protocols after a well-deserved delayed return to pre-season.
“We’ve only seen him once (in pre-season) really in half a game and a little bit in the Newcastle game,” Sexton said. “We obviously know him being a really good player, he’s got a good pedigree and so far he’s had a really good impact on the squad with the young guys particularly.“
He seems to know the game really well.
He’s got big shoes to fill in terms of trying to replace Isa, we all have to share that load in terms of replacing him and let Joe concentrate on bedding in and making an impact whatever position he plays.
“His versatility is brilliant, he can play anywhere across the backline. It’s good to get his perspective on how he prepared against us as well, because for two years we played Montpellier so he’s prepped against us so it’s interesting to see what they did to stop us and to beat us. It’s good to get that perspective too.”
Head coach Cullen picked up on Tomane’s ability to play across the backline, as well as his experience and leadership.
“The versatility is important, because at various stages during the year we miss certain players who get picked (by Ireland),” Cullen said.
“Joe obviously can’t get picked for Ireland, we hope he’ll be with us throughout the season, so some of the experiences he’s had, the environments he’s come from... the Brumbies would be a team that we look on traditionally because they’ve done a lot of innovative things in their game.
"His experiences in Montpellier with Jake White and then Vern Cotter — you’re always trying to get little bits from how different environments work.
“And then there is also his playing ability as well, the versatility piece is important. He’s big, strong — a different profile to a lot of the guys we have coming through the Academy system."
“So, it’s important we get that blend. His personality, he was very keen to come; mad keen to get here and he spoke very favourably about Leinster and his desire to play in the team.
“We’ll wait and see what that looks like, but we’re excited to see him play.”