I want to be Irish No 1, Dave Kilcoyne warns Cian Healy
DAVE KILCOYNE'S career trajectory has been so spectacular that his Munster coach Rob Penney mentioned him as a possible 'bolter' for the Lions this summer.
It is somewhat fanciful to believe that a player who made his international debut barely three months ago is of that standard yet, but Kilcoyne has been so impressive that Penney's suggestion does warrant consideration.
If, as Penney seemed to suggest, Lions coach Warren Gatland is planning a fast off-loading game with less of an emphasis being placed on the scrum contest, then Kilcoyne has to be in with a shout.
It's a certainty that Cian Healy will travel, and will battle with two-times Lions tourist Gethin Jenkins for the Test jersey. Others in the frame as potential tourists are Alex Corbisiero and, possibly, Joe Marler.
Kilcoyne has been fast-tracked to the forefront in Munster, usurping South African loosehead Wian du Preez and his own cousin Marcus Horan. The UL Bohemian player made his Munster debut in December 2011 and only made his first start in April 2012. Since then he has established himself as first choice with the province and made his Heineken Cup debut against Racing Metro in October.
Penney was effusive in his praise of the 24-year-old in the aftermath of Munster's win over Metro in Limerick on Sunday.
"The message should probably go to Gats (Gatland) that if he is looking for someone to play on top of the ground in Australia later on in the year, he should look really closely at the two Irish looseheads," said Penney. "Dave's scrummaging is fine and with a little more maturity and a little more age, he is going to be class.
"I'll keep the words 'world-class' out just at the moment but he has got the potential to do some special things, as we have seen with his round-the-field play. His robustness in the carry and his ability to do bits of special play around that is a bit unique for a front- rower.
"He's almost like a back-rower and I think the game and the conditions might suit him in Australia this summer."
However, all Kilcoyne is interested in is enhancing his own reputation, beginning with a likely start against England Saxons for the Wolfhounds on Friday night in Galway.
"We're looking at it as a huge opportunity. If you look back at the autumn internationals and, in particular, the match against Fiji, guys got an opportunity and were rewarded on the back of those performances," said Kilcoyne."
The Limerick man will do well to usurp the impressive Tom Court as Ireland's back-up No 1 in the Six Nations. Both are included in the squad for Friday's game and will, in all probability, be given a half each to impress, while Healy's Irish spot is, of course, the ultimate target.
"Every professional rugby player wants to be playing for their country and you're in the wrong game if that's not your overall goal," said Kilcoyne. "The next step for me is to try and make the starting team, or at least force the coaches into having to make a decision. I just want to keep pushing forward, keep improving."
The quality and depth Ireland have at loosehead, with three capable candidates, is in stark contrast with the dearth of options at tighthead, where Mike Ross seems irreplaceable.
Michael Bent is the second choice, but while he received some positive reports from his cameos during the autumn series, he has been far from impressive in Leinster colours – his savagings against Ulster and Connacht over Christmas spring to mind. Bent is also included in the squad for Friday's game as is Ulster's Declan Fitzpatrick.
One of the reasons for the emergence of such an abundance of loosehead talent is that all three contenders – Kilcoyne, Court and Healy – are playing regularly for their provinces. "Without a doubt being able to play the big games is a big plus," agreed Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss.
Understandably, Kiss was reluctant to be drawn into specific reasons for the lack of quality tightheads forcing their way through. It cannot be going unnoticed, however, that in Munster Stephen Archer is behind South African BJ Botha and in Ulster Fitzpatrick is second choice to Kiwi John Afoa.
It isn't ideal either that Ireland first two picks in the position – Ross and Bent – are also battling each other for game time with Leinster.
"Across the board it's ironic, I guess with regard to three looseheads coming along at the one time, but we're happy with what we have in our mix of props," added Kiss. "Steve Archer had an injury recently but Declan Fitzpatrick has just got back on his feet. When he was with us the last time he impressed us."
Healy and Ross are nailed on to start in Wales but the understudies' pecking order will be a lot clearer after Friday's game.