Saturday 3 December 2016

The Big Interview: Monivea star hoping to add extra cutting edge in No 9 shirt

Galway native eager to build on game-time and battle starters for minutes on the pitch

Daragh Small

Published 21/10/2016 | 02:30

Caolin Blade: ‘I’m really happy with how things are going’. Photo: Sportsfile
Caolin Blade: ‘I’m really happy with how things are going’. Photo: Sportsfile

Caolin Blade is fast becoming the lucky charm in Connacht Rugby's revolution under Pat Lam.

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Last weekend was his first Champions Cup start, which became one of the most famous nights in the province's history, with a memorable 23-21 victory over Toulouse.

But the first time he started a game for Connacht was in the Challenge Cup away to Bayonne, and the Monivea native scored twice in another sensational Connacht victory.

The Galwegians scrum-half started his first Pro12 game for Connacht against Scarlets in the Sportsground last January. Lo and behold, that turned into another season-defining victory as Connacht's fortunes changed, and they went on to win the league.

So there was no head-scratching when it was announced that Blade had signed a new contract in October. And along with his fellow academy graduates that extended their stay - Sean O'Brien, Peter Robb and James Connolly - they are the players that will shape Connacht's future.

"It's been really good. I am getting a good bit of game-time this year which you are always happy with," says Blade.

"I am delighted with how it's going. We had a poor enough start but things are picking up now and we are clicking a bit better.

"From my point of view, I am really happy with it and trying to keep it going and stay working hard."

Blade has made 26 appearances for the province and scored four tries since his debut in the 2013-'14 season.

But the 22-year-old constantly needs to reinvent his game and find new ways to build on his skill-set with five other scrum-halves vying for the coveted No 9 shirt. Kieran Marmion is an Ireland international that Blade has managed to keep out of the starting 15 of late, while John Cooney is on the comeback trail from injury.

In the academy there is a vast array of talented half-backs too, with Ireland U-20 star Stephen Kerins, Conor McKeon and Conor Lowndes pushing for a call-up.

"There's a good bit of depth in my position so you are never too safe. You just have to stay working hard, and stay impressing when you get your chance. I just want to get as much game-time and as much starts as I can get this season. My main goal is just to contribute as much as I can to this team.

"I don't have long-term goals, I take it week by week and month by month. I try to work hard and stay improving. Personally, that's the way I am. As a scrum-half there is a lot of pressure on your passing and kicking. Every week I try and get better at everything I do.

Controlling

"My main thing is game reading, and controlling the game that is my biggest work-on, along with the basic skills. I am only 22 but I want to get more experienced and become a smarter rugby player.

"The only way of practising that is when you are playing games and the more game-time you get, the better you are. Especially in those tight games when the clinical points come up you learn what you do and when they go right you know.

"There's a good understanding of the game at Connacht. Pat teaches a good game-plan and every game you play you just grow and grow as a player and as a person as well," he says.

Blade learned a lot last season, but nothing prepared him better for the big occasions than BT Murrayfield, and the Pro12 Grand Final victory over Leinster on May 28.

He has been a Connacht fan all his life and to experience the euphoria of winning a trophy, and being part of the first Connacht team to do so, helped him grow as an individual.

"I was reserve that day but I definitely don't think it mattered whether I was playing or not. I still had the same enjoyment. I remember the final whistle going and running onto the pitch. It was amazing, I never thought I would be in that position.

"The main thing was seeing John Muldoon crying. It showed what it meant, with him being here for 12 or 13 years. Seeing what it meant to him, and with me just coming through it was amazing.

"It meant just as much to me but I was just delighted for them lads and the supporters. I have never felt anything like when we came into the stadium that day. You could just see green everywhere and the 'Fields of Athenry' was in full swing. It made the whole day.

"It was extraordinary. It gave us more of a lift. It didn't feel like there was pressure on us anymore. It made us feel like we were at home and like we weren't just doing it for ourselves. We were doing it for everyone in Edinburgh that day and everyone back home in Connacht - it helped us a lot."

The Connacht faithful were back in full voice at the Sportsground in recent weeks as they packed the Galway venue against Edinburgh, Ulster and Toulouse.

They were three huge wins for a team that are back to their best, and the reigning Pro12 champions are hitting form at the right time of the season.

Blade has timed his run well to and he will continue to fight it out so that he can play his part in another historic campaign for Pat Lam's men.

"We are taking it game by game in the Champions Cup this season, but getting to the knockout stages is definitely what we can do.

"We want to win the three home games and then worry about the away games; that's the main thing and that's our main objective going forward as a team."

Irish Independent

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