Tuesday 26 September 2017

Six Nations snub no issue as full-back pushes for Ireland spot

Clifden flyer accepts there are areas of his game he needs to work on to earn Joe Schmidt's trust

Tiernan O’Halloran in action for Connacht
Tiernan O’Halloran in action for Connacht

Daragh Small

When Rob Kearney was ruled out of Ireland's Six Nations clash with England in March many Connacht fans would have thought this was Tiernan O'Halloran's chance to finally make his Six Nations debut.

The 26-year-old Connemara native was outstanding when he dotted down twice against Canada in the November internationals, and with three Ireland caps under his belt there was kope out west he would feature.

But Joe Schmidt went for experience instead, and chose Ulster's Jared Payne. As it turned out Payne had an outstanding game against the English, and contributed massively to Ireland's brilliant victory.

Many pundits felt this was another chance missed for O'Halloran, but he knows there are plenty of opportunities around the corner and respected the decision made by Schmidt.

"You had to look at the scenario where Ireland were under a bit of pressure, it was in the balance whether Ireland were going to finish second last in the group or second," says O'Halloran.

"It was a really important game. Against a team like England, experience counts for a lot, when you have a big massive Test match like that in the Aviva.

"Jared is a top-quality player - I witnessed that first hand in South Africa. You don't feel any bad blood there when somebody is called in ahead of you. You have to see Joe's perspective and what he is going for."

O'Halloran was sensational against Leinster last weekend, and despite playing for a losing side, his figures with ball in hand were once again superb. He made three clean-breaks from his 20 carries, with 149 metres run, four defenders beaten and one miraculous off-load.

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From an attacking sense O'Halloran gave the perfect performance, and he knows he needs to keep his levels consistent coming into the crunch end of the season.

"Looking forward to a tour in the summer, if you want to be getting on the plane for that you have to perform in the big games," he says.

"And you look at the play-offs as a knock-out game.

"You treat it as a Champions Cup game because that is where it is going to get you if you win. These are the games you need to perform in and you know Joe watches those. Everyone pushes for places, there is a lot of competition."

But it's not just with the Irish set-up where O'Halloran is constantly fighting for his place - with players continuing to return to fitness at Connacht, he feels his provincial starting spot is still not certain.

Exciting

"You have got Darragh Leader, Josh Rowland… Cian Kelleher as well is back for the game against Scarlets," he says. "He is a seriously exciting player. The good thing about that is there is a lot of competition in the back-three… Matt Healy will hopefully be back too.

"We look at it as a unit in the back-three. We look to help each other out, and having competition like that drives you on to improve your game."

O'Halloran has played 125 times for Connacht and scored 23 tries. But he is constantly evolving and this season has perhaps been his best yet.

He scored a try in the Guinness Pro12 final last year, as Connacht claimed the first piece of silverware in their history, and it crowned an impressive personal campaign for him too.

But as he looks to break back into the Irish team, O'Halloran is determined to become the complete player and he knows there are parts of his game that he can improve on.

"Coming back off a successful season last year and going on tour (with Ireland), I had a lot of confidence going into the season," he says. "But we didn't start too well, and you look at your own game wondering are you slacking and those sort of things.

"There were a couple of months are the start of the season where you are looking at yourself and thinking how are you going. I was lucky enough to get called into the November internationals squad, and I scored two tries against Canada in the Aviva which was a great experience for me.

"But when you are up in the Ireland squad and you are around that environment you realise that you still have so much to learn and improve in. You are grasping at certain aspects of your game but there are always things you can work on.

"There is a lot of experience at camp where you can go and work on things, or you have a thing in your game that Joe wants you to work on more. For me, at Connacht we are not a massive kicking team but I still need to work on my kicking game because that will need to be used if I was to play for Ireland."

But it's the time of year when Connacht thrive on the pitch, and their back-line always benefit in those situations.

Connacht play an exciting brand of rugby, and the players are able to express themselves within that system. And as the weather improves O'Halloran is looking forward to upping his levels too.

"You need to be making your one-on-one tackles, break-down you have to improve. It's good to get those targets. And in the winter months, with the weather and things, our game struggled," he says. "Far from perfection with a lot of things but I want to keep on improving as the season goes on.

"That is what I am working towards. Hopefully I will keep the head down, finish the season strongly and then make the summer tour."

Irish Independent

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