Saturday 22 July 2017

The Big Interview: 'It will be good for us to keep that style of play - I enjoy it'

Injury trouble blighted Kiwi prop's campaign, but increased game-time has seen him thrive

The Irish-qualified tighthead Dominic Robertson-McCoy, pictured alongside his Connacht team-mate Josh Pim, is loving life in Ireland Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
The Irish-qualified tighthead Dominic Robertson-McCoy, pictured alongside his Connacht team-mate Josh Pim, is loving life in Ireland Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Times have changed in Irish rugby, and there's no greater example that the depth the national side have in the tighthead position.

In the past John Hayes was the cornerstone of the Irish pack, and all year long fingers were crossed that he'd be fit and able bodied for the next test around the corner.

More recently, Mike Ross assumed those duties, and the Leinster No 3 was one of the constant performers for Joe Schmidt. But he has been phased out and a new breed of Irish tighthead are now filling the jersey, a more dynamic sort, in a position where there is plenty of depth all of a sudden.

Once again, it's a Leinster man, Tadhg Furlong, who has the jersey locked down, but behind him there are a whole host of potential candidates.

But where does this leave the Irish-qualified New Zealander Dominic Robertson-McCoy, who was brought in by Pat Lam and touted as one who was going to be very beneficial for Connacht and Irish rugby.

If an Irish-qualified tighthead prop was brought into this country ten years ago it was usually because there was a vacancy in the national set-up, but what if you can't even get a place in your provincial team?

Robertson-McCoy (23) has found it tough to break into the Connacht 23 since his arrival from New Zealand.

He has made seven Pro12 appearances and started just once - in Connacht's 33-3 bonus point victory over Zebre at the Sportsground.

But the former Northland ITM Cup star knows he needs to earn the right to get into the side and he is loving life in Ireland.

"I'm pretty happy with how it's going recently. I have been a bit more involved which is important," says Robertson-McCoy.

"With injuries as well, I was injured for a bit, coming here I had to get used to the different type of rugby. I wasn't expecting too much coming over so I'm delighted with it so far."

Although he's used to Connacht's southern hemisphere style of rugby, Robertson-McCoy has had to get used to the constant use of the set-piece, but he feels that will benefit his game massively, and make him a more well-rounded player - he is already seeing the effects.

"My scrummaging definitely has improved. There is way more of a focus on it up here, especially compared to back home. It has been good for my scrummaging.

"It's not so much technically, but the way teams play, they scrum for penalties a lot more. The ball might stay in the scrum a lot more and you just have to focus on that.

Humbling "And because of that everyone here lifts a lot more weight than they do back home. It shows because a lot of the boys are very strong. When I first came here I was a lot weaker in comparison.

"It is a bit humbling but you just know that there is a need for improvement. You have to be good with the diet to keep weight up, but not put too much bad weight on, so it's a good challenge."

The Auckland native started playing rugby when he was 13 and going to school at Sacred Heart, and he played for a number of years with Marist Brothers Old Boys - Pat Lam's former club.

Lam was coaching Auckland Blues when Robertson-McCoy represented their U-18s, and he went on to play with Northland, and the Hikurangi club.

But with his Irish roots - his grandfather Dominic McCoy is from Drumgane, Mowhan in Armagh - Robertson-McCoy always wanted to return to Ireland at some stage down the line. "I came here one time for a couple of weeks when I was 14 or 15. I was over with my mom, she wanted to show me Ireland so we came here.

"I didn't know what to expect. I had never been to Galway before so that was new to me.

"I'm here on my own but I don't get homesick. I like Ireland. I have got a lot of friends here too."

He jumped at the Connacht move and now heading into the latter stages of his first season with his new province, Robertson-McCoy has learned a lot about himself in the northern hemisphere.

He made his debut in Connacht's 32-11 hammering at home against Ospreys in Round 2 of the Pro12. And since that seven-minute salvo he has grown as a player and a lot that is down to the competition he faces every day.

"I really like working with the other tightheads, especially Finlay being an international. I have learned a bit off him, watching his game, and talking to him.

"I am really happy that Jimmy Duffy is staying around too. He has helped me a lot with how I play and it keeps the system the same, which is better, rather than everything changing for next season."

One thing that will definitely change is the man at the head of operations in the Sportsground, as Pat Lam departs for Bristol and Kieran Keane comes in to replace him.

Lam guided Connacht to their first ever piece of silverware last season, but this term they have struggled to keep up pace. Robertson-McCoy is looking forward to working with Keane.

"I'm always looking forward to someone new coming in like Kieran. I have never worked with Kieran. I know a few boys who have been coached by him. They have nothing but good things to say, and he should be good for us.

"The way he coaches is something like Pat. It will be good for us to keep that style of play - I enjoy it. I like playing with the ball. It suits the way I like to play."

Irish Independent

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