Promising lock targets Emerging Ireland call this season
No divided loyalties as Kingdom's Dillane ready to cheer on Ireland against his native France
Published 09/10/2015 | 02:30
On Sunday, the Millennium Stadium hosts the latest chapter in Irish rugby folklore when Ireland clash with France in their crucial Pool D decider.
Lose and next up it will be the best team in the world, the All Blacks, in a World Cup quarter-final, and that won't appeal to Ireland's Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt.
The more favourable draw of Argentina whets the appetite that bit more, and although the Pumas seemed to have peaked for another World Cup, they are beatable.
So the win is all-important in Cardiff and one youngster who was born in Paris, and spent his early years in the French capital, will have his support firmly behind the Irish jersey.
That's because he hopes to wear one by the end of this season - on an Emerging Ireland tour - to follow on from his underage caps that he garnered at U-19 and Youths level.
Ultan Dillane is a man on a mission, after he saw his housemate, Eoghan Masterson, reach the unprecedented heights of three Emerging caps in his first season with the Connacht first team.
Now the 21-year-old wants to match that feat and build on the substantial promise he showed in his third and final year as part of the Connacht academy.
The former Tralee RFC clubman has now amassed nine appearances for the senior side, after he signed his inaugural professional contract last January.
Central to the plan is his progression physically as an athlete, but Dillane says he is right on track to make his target of 120kg by his 24th birthday.
"For me, weight-gaining has always been a big aim of mine, through every pre-season. I am a comfortable 115 or 116kg now. I would like to push on another four kilos over the coming years.
"The S&C staff here reckon I might have a frame for 120kg. That's the current goal and once we achieve that, we will sort out a suitable weight for me. Everyone's different though.
"It all depends on your metabolism. You are finished developing physically by the time you are around 24. I am 21 now, hopefully I will reach the weight before that and then it's all about trimming down," he says.
Dillane burst onto the scene during a busy Christmas schedule last season, when he featured in all three inter-pros.
That followed some wonderful performances for the Connacht Eagles that season, and if he wants the graph to keep on rising he needs to become a regular in the starting 15 for the senior side this term.
Veteran Michael Swift and Mick Kearney have departed, but when Ben Marshall was signed from Leinster it offered even more competition for the second-row positions.
"Competition is huge, it is big in the back-row but it is massive in the second-row. There are six of us this season, all in good form and we do drive up the standards.
"It has been great. It is great. It's only better for the team. The team will have a string of 16 games this season. So you can expect a bit of rotation there somehow.
"What's needed now for us, is for everybody to be clear on their roles. So if someone is injured, somebody else can fill that position seamlessly and the standard doesn't drop - that is the ultimate goal."
One of the greatest moments of Dillane's short career to date, was when he stepped out opposite his hero Paul O'Connell in Connacht's 24-16 win over Munster on New Year's Day 2015.
He got the opportunity to train opposite him when the Irish squad had a run-out in the Sportsground prior to the World Cup, and Dillane relished another chance to see the very best in action.
"Your idols are still your idols no matter what age you are. I just saw Paul with the rest of the squad when they trained in Connacht for that week.
"We got to do lineouts and units against them. It was just surreal to see the standard that they have, the pace they have in the lineouts, and their scrum-work. You take all those things in and learn from it."
The now notorious 16-game block is just around the corner and Connacht's numbers will be tested to the maximum.
Coach Pat Lam said last week that he has never seen the likes of it in any league around the world, and it's likely the academy will used.
Last season that was Dillane, but now he will aim to guide those youngsters' progression into the teak-tough senior set-up.
"It's been the academy for the last three years for me so I know what it is like for the guys down there. It's great to have the guys in the academy pushing us in the senior team.
"It only increases the competition and drives up the standards. Pat loves that, it brings the best out of everyone so it is really positive. Everyone gels well together. It is great, we have a great group here.
"The thing about Connacht is everyone is so approachable here. During our time off, we all have extras to work on, whether it would be rehab and gym or positional work. Every odd Wednesday I would be in the gym doing whatever I can to prevent injury, or to push on my positional work.
"The younger second-rows would come in on a Wednesday, and we would help them out if we can. We work together on lineout work and scrummaging.
"But it's not just the second-rows that do that. The backs and everyone do their own bit."