Thursday 29 September 2016

Carolan's latest cub ready to fill the biggest shoes of all

Dublin-born centre eyes Robbie Henshaw's jersey after waiting patiently for his chance

Daragh Small

Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30

Blackrock boy Peter Robb is another of the crop that Nigel Carolan plucked from around Ireland Photo: Sportsfile
Blackrock boy Peter Robb is another of the crop that Nigel Carolan plucked from around Ireland Photo: Sportsfile

Robbie Henshaw is on his way out of Connacht at the end of this season, but Connacht's academy continues to unearth gem after gem, and Peter Robb will look to fill some big boots in the years to come.

The Big Interview - Peter Robb

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Also a centre, the Stillorgan native signed a senior contract with the province in January and he will look to make more of a mark under Pat Lam next term.

The 21-year-old has already played nine times for the senior side this term, but he is determined to push on as Connacht aim to embark on a season of Champions Cup rugby.

Robb is another of the crop that was plucked from around Ireland by the eagle-eyed Nigel Carolan. He spotted Robb first when the youngster starred for the Ireland U-19s, and he impressed the Connacht academy manager, who at the time was Ireland U-19s backs coach.

Robb began playing rugby when he went to the rugby nursery of Willow Park, and combined that with the Blackrock club.

He played cricket occasionally during the summer, but with the influence of his dad, David, who played for decades with Railway Union, Peter always put rugby to the forefront.

He later attended Blackrock College. In Junior Cup year, they lost to Terenure in the semi-finals. And in the Senior Cup, they came up short in the first round against the same school, but Robb had found his calling.

Leinster academy lock Gavin Thornbury was on that team, and one year below Robb was another young centre looking to find his way. Robb knew Garry Ringrose was also destined for the big time.

"I didn't play in school with him much in the centre, only once or twice. It was after that, with the Ireland U-20s, that's when I played with him a lot," Robb says of the Leinster prospect.

"It was great playing with Garry, I have known him since I was about five years old, and we were good friends. He lived just five minutes' drive down the road from me. He was always a good player."

Robb was beginning to show his talents too and he spent two years in the Leinster sub-academy. Although he was somewhat of a late bloomer, Carolan still had the foresight to recognise his talent.

"I only starting playing representative when I was U-19 so I was late into that level of rugby. I played on the Ireland U-19s and then I went onto the U-20s and at that stage I was fairly clear on it, I wanted to play full-time.

Proud

"I played every minute of the U-20 Six Nations. It was great for my family and all that, it was a proud moment for me and enjoyed it.

"After that Nigel approached me and said: 'We would be interested in taking you on for a two-year academy opportunity down in Connacht'.

"It was a good opportunity to be given. I couldn't turn it down. The lads down in Galway are a nice bunch and I got on with them well in the U-20s, so it was an easy choice to make."

Connacht were just beginning their upward curve at that stage. But they were still some way off being Pro12 leaders, and serious contenders for European silverware. Robb was delighted that he joined at the right time.

"It was obviously a good time to come in. They are on the up every year. I thought coming down, there would be good opportunities," he explains.

"We are doing so well now. It's great being around this professional environment.

"At the start we were doing most of the training with Jimmy Duffy and Nigel last year. For the first few months I was coming back from an injury which left me out of the World Cup.

"After that I was with the academy for a while, and then we went into the seniors. Pat called us up and we were training with them. At times it's frustrating not getting game-time. But you just have to be patient and the chances will come."

And finally this season they really have; Robb has impressed on his outings with the first-team squad and he has shown what he can do linking with the likes of Bundee Aki.

He recognises that it wasn't the easiest route to the top, but it's all paying off now. And his recent contract extension has shown him that the hard work has been worth it.

More drudgery in the coming months and he can expect to see a whole lot more game-time next year. It's something that excites the final year Arts student.

"Last year you feel like you are nearly being used as a punching bag at times," he says.

"But the chances come if you just wait. This year I have worked harder and it has paid off. Pat has always told us that where you are reflects the work you put in.

"That has really showed this year for me. I have stepped up my workload, and I can see with the results now.

"The contract came after a couple of caps. Myself and Sean O'Brien were offered it at the same time. He is also my housemate so it was funny the way it worked out. I am delighted with it. You are waiting all year to hear if you are getting anything and it's great.

"Now I just need to work on the basics. Not a huge amount different. I just need to know my stuff, and to work on the small details. Hopefully it will give me a better chance of getting regular game-time next season."

Irish Independent

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