Six Nations: Young gun Ultan Dillane backed to make impact against England
Published 23/02/2016 | 02:30
Joe Schmidt has already indicated that younger players will be blooded before the end of the Six Nations and with one of those, Ultan Dillane, in line to make his international debut in Twickenham on Saturday, he has been backed to make the step up.
Mike McCarthy (concussion) will miss the remainder of the tournament and with Dave Foley only linking up with the squad yesterday, Dillane is expected to provide second-row cover from the bench against England.
Ireland U-20s coach Nigel Carolan has worked with Dillane from a young age with Connacht and has watched him flourish over the last couple of years.
It hasn't all been plain sailing for the 22-year-old who only moved to Ireland at the age of seven. Dillane was born in France to a Kerry mother, while his father is from Ivory Coast.
Having missed out on representing Ireland at U-20 level, it is very much a case of making up for lost time for a player who has been at the forefront of everything good about Connacht this season.
Carolan, who is also Connacht's academy manager, believes that the graduate of Tralee RFC is now good enough for the international stage.
"I think it would be fantastic for Ultan. Above everyone who I've worked with, he deserves it. He's worked really, really hard," Carolan enthused.
"He hasn't had the easiest journey with his background but here's a guy who's developed resilience and perseverance through his experiences with Connacht.
"He's been injured on and off for a couple of years which kinda inhibited his physical development and I think that's when I compare him to some of these U-20s players. He's only two years older than them and yet he was never selected on the Irish U-20s in his year.
"It should give a lot of hope to guys that are in this squad that with the right attitude and right work ethic you can achieve whatever you want to achieve and that's with regard to Ultan.
"I think any selection can be circumstantial in terms of the opportunity, maybe somebody is injured but again he's ready to go and that's been recognised. I would be absolutely delighted for him if he gets his first cap this week."
Carolan, who is preparing his Ireland U-20s side to face England on Friday, is hoping that some of his current players will take inspiration from the path that Dillane has forged for himself.
"I think Ultan is resilient. He's been amazing," Carolan said.
"He had a couple of shoulder injuries which again sort of hindered his physical development. But once he got on top of those, he was able to work on his physical development and that's the main weapon that he has.
"He's extremely physical. He's a guy who you would prefer is on your team rather than on the opposition because it hurts when he tackles and it hurts when he carries the ball.
"He's so physical now but that comes with time. I do believe that maybe our U-20s are maybe 18 months behind the opposition at the moment in terms of their physical development.
"But just keep working away, I think there's a lot guys in this group that will go onto greater honours.
"That's what this journey is about for these guys.
"The U-20s is not the end game. It's part of the process. Any guy who sets his sights just on the U-20s is short-sighted. There's no reason why they shouldn't aim higher, especially for professional teams."
Peter Claffey, a team-mate of Dillane's at Connacht, echoed Carolan's thoughts and urged his fellow young second-row to rise to the latest challenge.
"Ultan's a good friend of mine from the academy. He's such a down-to-earth guy, but he's been so dedicated for the last few years," Claffey said.
"I was talking to Nigel about how he's probably going to be on the bench this weekend, only two years ago he was struggling weight-wise and physicality-wise but he's pushed on so much.
"I suppose it is nerve-racking and scary when you see the lock position is pretty thin in the seniors, but it's just another challenge to push onto now."