Monday 24 April 2017

Dillane lays down benchmark as he eyes up French opportunity

Dillane: Working harder. Photo: PA
Dillane: Working harder. Photo: PA
David Kelly

David Kelly

However Ireland's championship challenge unfolds over the next month, you can bet that Joe Schmidt will return to his side's opening Murrayfield mis-match more than once, if not publicly, then privately.

Publicly, his exasperation at his side's stuttering start during last week's build-up advanced a different perspective on the defeat to a Scottish side few expected then - or since - to be involved in the title mash-up on St Patrick's weekend.

"The biggest disappointment was not the start but the finish," Schmidt moaned; reading between the lines, as with any interpretation of a coach's comments, his were an indictment of a bench in which he was not fully trusting.

The Italian rout altered that perception but it is also obvious that the Azzurri inadequacies failed to fully challenge it, such was the utter dominance of the Irish display, in stark contrast to its fitful predecessor.

"I let myself down and I had to work a lot harder last week so it's great," noted one of the replacements, Ultan Dillane, of his own improvement from a sluggish enough display on the opening day compared to the trademark energy he brought to the fray on Saturday, with Devin Toner one of several key players withdrawn prematurely with an eye to the last three rounds.

"The bench is really important; against Scotland we let ourselves down coming off the bench. We didn't bring the energy we needed to lift the players who had started.

"You need to boost the lads who are on the pitch, you finish off the game really and so the last 20, 30 minutes you have to try and make a difference and improve your performance."

Ireland failed to do so against Scotland, compounding a horrendous start, whereas they handsomely embellished a much more aggressive and urgent opening period last weekend.

Hence, Ireland's momentum was barely stalled despite the removals of players such as Robbie Henshaw, Toner, the front-row and even Conor Murray late on as Schmidt's men scored more tries in the second half than they had in the first.

Against Scotland, for example, Rory Best stayed on for 80 minutes with Niall Scannell admitting he was disappointed not to emerge for his international debut as his side's nascent comeback wilted.

Yet a week later, the captain's gut ache not only whisked Scannell into the fray at a few hours' notice, but James Tracy only flew in the night before yet still also came off the bench for a late cameo.

"We learned that guys will grow and their confidence will grow if they get into the right frame of mind with the right players around them," said Schmidt.

"They'll feel more comfortable at this level because it is quite suffocating, Six Nations rugby."

Regardless of France's wildly unpredictable attempts to recreate their golden past, the visit of Guy Noves' side and their brutish physicality will test Schmidt's resolve.

In mitigation, his options are guaranteed to be boosted by such strong characters like Andrew Trimble, Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony, Best and Iain Henderson.

Dillane benefited from the unavailability of both Henderson and O'Mahony; he may now lose out should they both post signs of a return to fitness.

"I definitely found it tough," said Dillane, who returned in Scotland for the first time after ankle trouble. "I hadn't played since before Christmas. It's great to be back, it's a privilege to come back in, but the first day I let myself down and I had to work a lot harder last week so it's great."

An 11th cap next time out would be a first against the French, and a special one for a chap raised in France by his Tralee-born mother before he moved to Kerry as a seven-year-old.

An accomplished shot-putter, Dillane also indulged in Gaelic football, soccer, swimming, tennis, Taekwon-Do and athletics before a €5 bribe from his mother, Ellen, finally got him to give rugby a go as a 13-year-old.

"It's an exciting game," he enthused. "If I'm lucky enough to play in it hopefully it'll be a good opportunity. I'm looking forward to it. We'll see how the review goes. I could be caught out for something yet."

Irish Independent

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