Thursday 16 August 2018

'I want to have that starting position all year round'

Confidence and belief is soaring in Monivea scrum-half as he hones his skills under Keane

Caolin Blade aims to impress for Connacht during the Six Nations window. Photo: Sportsfile
Caolin Blade aims to impress for Connacht during the Six Nations window. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Since he surpassed the 50-cap marker, Caolin Blade has upped the work-rate on and off the training pitch, and on game day everything has come naturally.

Even with two Ireland internationals in competition over the last few seasons, the Monivea native has played 58 times for the province.

John Cooney departed for Ulster at the end of 2016-'17, but new man in James Mitchell has had to fight for his place in the match-day squad, and Blade made that niche his own.

The 23-year-old has put in hours of study away from the Sportsground.

He wants to improve every week and in any way he can. And programmes like Huddle help him process the information and increase the output on game day.

"Kieran Keane has brought in a different game-plan but at the end of the day it's still rugby. The actual way he coaches is a bit different to Pat Lam, and the way he goes about things," says Blade.

"He steps back and watches what we are doing and then he will coach us. Pat was more of a hands-on and vocal. Kieran has a nice way of coaching and gives us confidence in that way.

"We have one-on-ones, and his main advice is stay working on my game and grow in confidence. There is a lot of homework off the pitch, it's not all on the pitch. He speaks a lot about investing in your job, in rugby, and you will get a lot more out of that.

"We have an online thing called Huddle and when we come home from training you use that. It's just about knowing your job and what you have to do.

"We had Huddle last year as well. As we are going along we are getting better at using it and understanding it more. It's a handy thing because when you get home in the evening you can go on your laptop and phone and check things out.

"You only have a few hours during the week of actual physical training on the pitch, the more you do off it the easier it is on it."

Blade made his debut for Connacht in 2013-'14 and since then he has become a regular in the match-day squad.

But this season Blade has thrived on the extra game-time and although he wants the consistency of good performances throughout, the Six Nations provides an obvious window of opportunity.

"I am getting a good few games especially with Kieran (Marmion) in the international squad, I am getting time to start so it's good.

"I would target this part of the season but I want to have that starting position all year around, not just when the internationals are on. I want to push Kieran and the other lads that are in the scrum-half position. When I do get my chance I want to impress and play well.

weakness "I am improving every week even. With James coming in when John left last season it's what we need. There is great competition there with Conor McKeon too. There are four of us here who push each other on the field and we are great friends off it too."

Usually the half-backs can come in for a tough time in defence when the opposing team notice a potential weakness, and use any size or weight differential in their favour.

But Blade is a No 9 who thrives on his defensive roles, and his improved work on the breakdown has been a notable addition to his all-round game.

"I have a bit more confidence. Our defence coach Pete Wilkins has given us the tools and training to go after the breakdown and attack it," says Blade. "I have got a few more opportunities, and as a nine it's something you need to have. You get into those positions a lot. You need to take them when you get the chance.

"I am happy with how it's going at the moment. I wouldn't be the heaviest as a nine so it's more technique but I find it a lot easier than most of them, I am not as tall as the second-rows and back-rows. It's more technique and being brave enough to put your head in there.

"You can see people pick up injuries from trying to jackal, a lot of shoulder and back injuries. You can't think like that. Pete Wilkins has us all trained well. We do a lot of drills on it so we know what to do."

Connacht suffered a gut-wrenching defeat at to home Zebre at the Sportsground last weekend, but the team are desperate to bounce back against Benetton Rugby this time around.

Kieran Keane's side are well off the pace in terms of the Guinness PRO14 play-offs, and qualification for the Champions Cup now looks to be in real danger.

But they have an opportunity to build some momentum against the Italians, and the trip to South Africa could come at the right time.

"We are definitely excited, it's a brilliant place to be. But we have a few huge games coming up with Treviso and then a trip to South Africa," says Blade.

"We can't think about the Challenge Cup yet. We are still in contention in the PRO14 to push for a play-off place. We have Edinburgh after South Africa and then we put the heads down and start to think about Europe.

"I have never been to South Africa. I am hoping to stay fit and hopefully get picked to go.

"The two South African teams have definitely added something different to what we are used. I am definitely looking forward to hopefully getting over to South Africa.

"Hopefully the weather is nice and it's a big thing for a lot of the lads to play over there and see what it is like."

Irish Independent

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