Monday 18 December 2017

D’Arcy targets clean sweep to put Ireland back ‘on front foot’

Veteran centre wants three victories in November to boost Ireland’s rankings ahead of 2015 World Cup draw

Gordon D'Arcy with head coach Declan Kidney. Photo: Sportsfile
Gordon D'Arcy with head coach Declan Kidney. Photo: Sportsfile

THE next World Cup may prove a bridge too far for Gordon D'Arcy but he is determined to leave a legacy for the young men who will take over the mantle.

The centre will be 35 when the 2015 tournament kicks off in England and there are not many backs still going at that age. D'Arcy has no fixed retirement date and his form this season has been good. He is living in the moment, but the goals the Wexford man is working towards involve a future he may not be a part of.

According to the Leinster star, Declan Kidney is not the only one worried about world ranking points in Maynooth this week.

The squad are clear on the importance of beating South Africa and Argentina to give the men of 2015 the best chance possible of success when next month's pool draw is made.

"This time in the rugby cycle is unique. There is an interim goal in the world rankings for the draw for 2015 and we have got to win these three games," he said, including the non-Test clash with Fiji in his thoughts.

"If we win these games, then we get a good ranking and that puts us on the front foot going into the Six Nations.

"It is primarily about getting a first win of the new season in a green jersey -- however that happens. If that happens, then you build up a wider view of the three matches and the goal is to be as high up the rankings as we can be and give the guys who are lucky enough to go to 2015 as good a chance as possible."

When D'Arcy looks around him at Carton House this week, the faces are fresher and the soldiers he went into battle with so often are getting fewer and fewer.

Many would lament that passing of time and the retirement of so many friends and team-mates, but the professional in the 32-year-old is enjoying the change and trying to keep up with these young pretenders.

He was once the brash tyro called up straight from school to the Ireland squad, now he is the elder statesman watching men who were born in the 1990s like Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson and his newest rival for the No 12 jersey Luke Marshall running around.

Marshall was eight years old when D'Arcy made his Ireland debut, Jackson was seven. Now the two Ulster youngsters are giving orders in the same back line.

"It is a natural part of life. You go through being the young fellah, challenging the status quo, and then suddenly you realise you are the status quo and everybody is much younger than you," he said with a wry smile.

"Marshy could be a seasoned pro the way he is out there, and that is what you want. You see Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and these guys, particularly in the backs, who are coming through.


"You need that kind of freshness, that willingness to learn. Even Paddy Jackson was changing something small today that had a ripple effect throughout the back line. It's great.

"When you're with the same group of guys, there are only so many ways you can dice something up. But when a lot of guys come in at once, it definitely does challenge how you think and how you do things."

This week, D'Arcy and the squad welcomed the Irish Boxing High Performance Unit to Carton House and he was hauled up by fellow Wexford native and head coach Billy Walsh to go toe-to-toe with Olympic captain Darren O'Neill.

The Irish set-up have previously welcomed golfer Padraig Harrington and professional boxer Marvin Hagler to their set-up and the visit seems to have had the desired effect.

"We did their warm-up with them and it was another level altogether. They were really interesting guys, their cycle for Rio has already begun and, in one sense, our preparation for 2015 has started already," D'Arcy said.

"I ended up sparring with Darren O'Neill and he hits very, very hard. He patted me on the head and said, 'don't worry, I was taking it easy' and that puts the fear of God into you.

"We had a Q&A with Billy and, just talking to the guy, you could tell why we are so successful in the boxing world. You can see the passion and the drive in hearing him speak -- everything is performance, performance, performance.

"It was infectious and great timing for us, because we are going to need that performance and that consistency over the next few weeks."

D'Arcy looks set to play alongside Keith Earls in the centre after his regular partner Brian O'Driscoll required surgery on the ankle injury he picked up against Cardiff Blues last Saturday. Earls and D'Arcy have played together in the centre five times, with two wins, two defeats and a draw in Paris.

And while D'Arcy acknowledged that things would change as a result of the captain's absence, he believes Ireland can cope.

"It's not the end of the world," he said. "You can't control injuries. You'd prefer to have them (O'Driscoll and Rory Best), you'd prefer to have the competition for places.

"You tailor what you do to different players. You go with what you have. Injuries happen. You may not be able to play a specific move, or you may change the positioning in a move, or you may actually scrap the whole menu you had because your 15 and 13 are now different and you come up with a new set of ones that will get you the same results but they just work to their specific skill-set.

"They've got two weeks to know what's coming, what's expected of them and that they have to perform. Everybody knows that. We know we have to perform in that match."

Irish Independent

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