Tuesday 25 April 2017

'We have a one-game focus and it's entirely on Leinster'

Roscommon second-row ready to break through despite very strong competition in lock position

Danny Qualter
Danny Qualter

Daragh Small

With such a depth of talent in the Connacht squad at present, someone has to lose out, and the battle for the two second-row slots has been ferocious.

Danny Qualter can operate in the back-row, but in his favoured lock position he has had to contend with Aly Muldowney, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Ben Marshall and Andrew Browne this season, with George Naoupu also moving in occasionally.

But the Buccaneers clubman is continuing to fulfil his potential and with all the physical attributes to make it big, Qualter is adapting his game to become a more useful option when he is called upon.

He got his chance in the wins over Ospreys and Edinburgh and he didn't let Pat Lam and Jimmy Duffy down. But the 24-year-old Athlone native is determined to keep pushing and improving all the time.

"It was nice to finally put in a good performance against Ospreys. The only reason the coaches have been hard on me is because they want the team to get better and they cannot afford anyone to dip below those high standards. I was happy to live up to that standard that day against Ospreys.

"The competition drives you on to do that. You know that you cannot rest on your laurels because there is a guy waiting in the wings to take the spot.

"When he takes his spot he takes his chance and he could be in then for a few games and you might not be in at all.

"It's just about keeping everybody on their toes, and whoever is selected to go and play that game, the lads that aren't selected, make sure that they are prepared to go and play that game. That comes through competition and training and stuff like that.

"It's great for Ultan to get the international experience. He had a couple of nice games during the Six Nations. It's a great boost for the squad having all five lads in there at the one stage. You cannot underestimate that.

"I don't think there was ever five Connacht lads playing on the pitch at one stage; it's great for the province as a whole.

"It's great for young lads in the academy that see there is a pathway from the academy to the Ireland squad.

"He is going to add to us now. He has those international caps and he is going to bring experience with him. He is going to put pressure on the lads in his position to perform. It will be nice to have a player of his calibre coming in," says Qualter.

Promise

But Qualter is vying for the same shirt as Dillane, and he also aspires to follow on from the promise he showed when he played for the Ireland Schools side.

Qualter used to be a rower, and a Gaelic footballer - he played in an All-Ireland minor quarter-final for Roscommon against Kerry in Croke Park. But that game went to extra-time and Roscommon ended up losing.

The Clann na nGael clubman gave up the other sports after that and decided to focus on rugby. He went to Sligo Grammar for Leaving Cert and won a Connacht Senior Cup when they defeated 'the Jes' in the final.

At that stage Qualter was destined for the professional rugby ranks, and he joined up with the Connacht academy in his first year out of school after Nigel Carolan set up a meeting with his father, Seamus, and him.

"I had been playing in the academy with Conor Finn, Jack Carty, Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion, Aaron Conneely who came through and moved on. We have a group of five or six lads who came through the academy. It's a success story and it's testament to the work that goes on in the academy.

"Even now there is a good migration from the academy to the senior squad with Sean O'Brien and Peter Robb getting involved with senior contracts. It's always been a strength in Connacht. There has always been a good pathway from the academy into the senior squad.

"You are growing home-grown talent, and lads are willing to do the work when they get to senior. And they can see that if they do get into the senior set-up there are the benefits and the success comes with that through the hard work."

Qualter has come through now, and he has 12 Connacht caps under his belt during three seasons of rugby with the senior side.

But he never thought he would see Connacht competing at the very top table in the Pro12 and in the Challenge Cup. Qualter says tomorrow's clash with Leinster will be huge.

"Back when I joined you couldn't see Connacht doing so well over a couple of years. But since Pat has come in, over the last three seasons he has built the squad up. We have slowly put our systems in place.

"It's nice to be at the top of the table now, but it's through a lot of hard work that has gone in before. Over the last couple of years we have shown glimpses but now we are really pushing on.

"The biggest thing this year has been our one-game focus. We are not looking past Leinster. At the moment we are focusing entirely on them, and whatever happens after that and into next season we will come to then.

"It would be the biggest inter-pro ever between the two. The top spot is there to be taken away from us. It's all about going through a process. Hopefully it will be a good game to watch, and we can do enough to win it."

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