Saturday 21 July 2018

Young prop is thrilled to be in the running for starting spot

Former Munster loosehead has impressed since his move north became permanent

Peter McCabe is delighted he made the move to the Sportsground. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter McCabe is delighted he made the move to the Sportsground. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

He is only in his first full season with Connacht, and barely his third as a professional rugby player, but Peter McCabe has been an integral part of their Challenge Cup squad, and now he is determined to feature against Gloucester.

The 25-year-old former Munster loosehead prop arrived in the Sportsground at the start of 2017-18, fresh off a victorious British & Irish Cup campaign with Munster 'A'.

Having experience of winning silverware is a familiar trait with many of this Connacht crop, since they defeated Leinster at Murrayfield in May 2016.

And McCabe knows a Challenge Cup quarter-final success could pave the way for another landmark achievement.

But for now it's all PRO14-focused at the Sportsground, and Zebre are next in line, before a trip to face their Italian rivals Benetton and then it's on to South Africa.

McCabe is focused on producing consistent performances - he has played 10 times for Connacht this season - if he wants to be a matchday regular when the season reaches its business end.

"I never went through an academy in Munster. I came straight to a development contract and got injured. So this is basically my second professional season playing," said McCabe.

"Jimmy Duffy is one of the best coaches I've had. My game in the scrum has come on. Jimmy takes you aside and tells you what you have to work on. It's very good for any player.

"I have had 10 appearances this year compared to five around this time last year. You just want to push on, keep learning from the game and get a bit better.

"You want to be as good as you can in the scrum. You can never be too good at the scrummaging, you have to nail that. That's the first part of the game, anything else is a bonus: carrying, tackling, work-rate."

McCabe briefly left the Munster set-up last season before returning when injury took its toll on their squad.

In Limerick the Kanturk native had to compete with Ireland internationals Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin.

His move to Galway hasn't made life any easier.

"It's a good battle with Denis Buckley and Denis Coulson. If you were up against no one it wouldn't benefit you at all," said McCabe.

"It's a great experience having Buckley to look up to. He has had a lot of caps for Connacht and it's competition, you need it to push on.

"You get good chances up here and you just have to take them. That's the big thing. It's just playing games, to get that experience, time on the pitch, and to improve as a player and show the coaches what you can do."

Fresh

McCabe is still a relatively fresh addition to the Connacht squad, who formed a strong bond during their PRO12 success under Pat Lam.

Kieran Keane has since replaced the new Bristol head coach, while there have been other alterations throughout the coaching set-up, and playing staff.

"It's been dead easy to fit in. All of the lads are top lads. They made me feel at home when I arrived up," said McCabe.

"You miss a few of the lads down in Munster and you stay talking to them, but the lads are top lads up here. It's much the same, just a different location really.

"It was difficult at the start not knowing anyone really. Then obviously just getting used to it and being shipped back down to Munster. I did get a chance then down there last year when I went back and played a couple of games.

"But ultimately coming up to Connacht was the best thing for me, with all of the looseheads down in Munster, a few of them up in the Irish squad too.

"I just wanted to push on and hopefully get more game time up here which is happening at the moment. It's good."

Despite a tricky start to 2017-18 Connacht have responded over the festive period and put themselves back in contention in the PRO14.

Cheetahs are still in the distance but last week's win over Ospreys has kept Connacht's play-off chances alive, while March 31 is a massive date on the calendar.

"It's great for the fans that come out when we are playing home games. There will be a good buzz around for the quarter-final against Gloucester," said McCabe.

"Especially because they will have a big team coming over. I would imagine it will be a packed-out Sportsground. A lot of work to do for that game. But we are in a good place in that competition. Hopefully it will work out.

"It's a great competition. It gives a lot of lads a go. This year it gave me the chance to play a bit of it and get used to playing in Europe.

"That's for players to push on with the experience in Europe, it only makes you better. It would be very strange to get to a final and play in Spain. But Connacht won a PRO12 two seasons ago so they know how to win semi-finals and finals.

"Personally I have never experienced a quarter-final in Europe or anything like that. It would be big if I was selected. And it would be massive for the club to get to the final, and silverware is all any club aims for at the start of the season. If you achieve it that's a big bonus for the club and fans.

"The Munster 'A' win was up near the top of my achievements, either that or beating the Maori All Blacks in Thomond Park. That was a big day and occasion for me, and we won it.

"But the 'A' final in Cork last year was massive as well. It was my last year for Munster as well. It was good to finish on a high."

Irish Independent

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