THE ARRIVAL of Heineken Cup rugby at Connacht has brought a feel-good factor to the province this season, and the performances of Shane Layden, a 19-year-old academy back, have personified the mood in the camp.
Having scored a hat-trick for Connacht U20 in their Inter-Pro victory over Munster, he made his senior debut against Leinster at the RDS last October, filling a gap left by injury to Eoin Griffin.
Layden hails from a Gaelic Football background, and his skills were honed when he played for Roscommon Minor in 2009-10. He now plays club rugby for Buccaneers, and his safe hands under the high ball, combined with electric pace and a try-scoring instinct, have caught the eye of the national selectors. He has represented Ireland U18 and U19, and made his U20 Six Nations debut this season.
Tries against Wales, Italy and Scotland saw him consolidate his place in the starting line-up in the No 15 jersey, although he has also played on the wing and at centre. Ireland U20 coach Mike Ruddock says: “The fact that Connacht won the U20s Championship this year shows how far they’re coming on with their game. Shane is very skilful, and kicks and passes equally well off both feet. But one thing he needs to work on is patience, and knowing when to hold onto the ball rather than passing or kicking it.”
Something to work on for Layden, but he’s ticking a lot of boxes.
Rugby World Verdict: The teenager is capitalising on Connacht’s development. Bea Asprey
The comparison with Victor Ubogu is hard to ignore: an English loosehead of Nigerian heritage who loves to carry the ball.
Twenty years after Ubogu was in his pomp, Beno Obano is ploughing his own furrow. And successfully too, helping Dulwich College to Daily Mail U18 Cup glory and, after a torn hamstring held up his representative career, playing for England U18 against London Academies and Northampton.
The 17-year-old is also part of the Wasps Academy, where he trains under the tutelage of assistant manager Chris Lloyd. “Beno is a great player and a real athlete,” says Lloyd. “He’s an outstanding ball-carrier but what caught my attention was a sevens tournament at London Oratory school, when he was chasing down wingers. We love having him at the club. He’s very driven and has a bit of humour and character about him.”
The South Londoner’s first passion was football and he remains a big Chelsea fan. But after Obano’s introduction to rugby at London Oratory aged 12, the die was cast. Although a prop, his speed and strength over the ball lend themselves to the role of a seven – and he names Sean O’Brien as his favourite player. “He’s a massive ball-carrier and that’s the way I like to play,” he says.
The current thinking, however, is to convert Obano to a hooker and he’s doing double shifts on throwing technique to further that aim. After completing his A-levels next summer, he plans to take a gap year to give rugby his full attention.
Rugby World Verdict: Bang on course to earn a full-time contract at Wasps next year. Alan Pearey
This article appeared in the June 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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