Monday 23 September 2019

'I wouldn't see it as pressure. I see it as an opportunity'

Big Interview: Caelan Doris

Caelan Doris going through his paces at Leinster training. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Caelan Doris going through his paces at Leinster training. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Caelan Doris arrives fresh-faced and cleanly shaven into UCD. He is straight from the barber's and a complimentary hot towel shave courtesy of Rugby Players' Ireland. This isn't a new service being offered to their members by the players' union, instead the start of a fundraising campaign that a number of rugby players across Ireland have put their names to.

"It's for Movember," explains the 20-year-old Leinster back-row, "so for the month of November I'll go without a shave but the good people in Rugby Players' Ireland gave us one last tidy-up before it all starts. But after that it will be about raising awareness for the charity and for men's cancer for the month."

He isn't the only Leinster player to sign up but perhaps it is telling that Doris wasn't found wanting when the opportunity arose. A former Ireland U-20s captain, leadership comes naturally to him and he has been talked about in rugby circles for a while now. That doesn't get you your first Leinster cap any quicker though.

"It's in everyone's head when you are in the academy. Trying to get that first cap. The trick I suppose is to kick on from there but first you want to get it, tick that box. For me last season I suppose with getting that cap in the last regular game of the season against Connacht, there was no real chance to kick on after that.

"But look, I was only supposed to be 24th man that day in Galway but then Jordi (Murphy) went down in the warm-up and I was called in. It was great to get game-time off the bench but obviously the result didn't go our way. It was a great way to finish out the season personally, especially coming off the back of the hamstring injury that I had before then."

With a taste of first-team action under his belt, he set his sights on his first pre-season as a senior player. And all in the knowledge that the aforementioned Murphy had moved on to Ulster, Peadar Timmins had left and of course that Jamie Heaslip had unfortunately retired.

Caelan Doris in action for Ireland’s U-20s against France earlier this year. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Caelan Doris in action for Ireland’s U-20s against France earlier this year. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Nothing would come easy of course, but Leinster didn't sign any back-rowers to replace those that left, instead they put their trust in the likes of Doris, Josh Murphy and Will Connors and signed them up to senior contracts.


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"I had known for a while that I would have a senior contract for this year so I knew this would be a big season. But then I saw the job that was ahead of me. Obviously we had trained with the senior lads a fair bit in UCD but I saw it in the Connacht game for the first time; the difference. The difference between everything I had seen and done before to this, to now. Playing 20s was one thing, playing in the PRO14 was another level.

"And not just on field. The prep, the level of detail behind the scenes, the dressing room pre-game, the pre-match chats, the warm-up, everything. It was a whole new level and it's like everything once I had a taste I wanted more and I couldn't wait for pre-season."

Pre-season came and went and then a first start for Leinster away to the Cardiff Blues. Another eye-opener for Doris but this time of the steely nature of his team-mates and what this Leinster team is about.

"It was a mixed game for me personally but we were under the pump and went behind. Playing on the 4G surface and their backs were so quick and they punished us. But we hung in there and you could see the more senior players and their cool heads and their leadership qualities really dug us out of a hole that day. Keep focused. Next job. Let's get the next score and then let's build from there."

And that's what they did to earn a brilliant - in the end - 32-33 win in front of nearly 10,000 people. It was the same players that stood out that night that are standing out at the moment for Doris with so many players away with Ireland preparing for the internationals.

"Big time. Scott Fardy, James (Lowe), Joe (Tomane) and Jamo (Jamison Gibson-Park), those lads are really driving things this week and it was the same that night. Jamo came off the bench and scores and we drove on from there. They just reassure you. They know what's required.

"We saw that desire to fight for each other right to the final whistle last week as well. The game was won against Benetton but we kept fighting to make sure we didn't concede a try. You can't teach that in a team. The desire to play for each other, I think we have that here."

Does he and the others left behind, as it were, during this international window feel extra pressure to perform and to maintain the standards set by the lads that are now hopefully going to pull on a green jersey?

"I wouldn't see it as pressure. I see it more as an opportunity. There is a brilliant energy around the place at the moment. Lads have been waiting for this window, playing in the Celtic Cup, waiting to put their hands up and nobody wants to let standards drop. I think the mixture of youth and experience is a good thing and everyone is looking forward to the Kings on Sunday."

Not that this trip to South Africa will be a new experience for him. He was flown out at late notice for the Cheetahs game last season and while he saw no game-time, he again soaked up what he saw.


"It was really a three-day holiday! But you have to take those opportunities to show the coaches that you can have a positive influence on the squad, even as 24th man. And it will be the same for this weekend with an extended squad traveling. Everyone has a role to play.

"The Kings beat the Glasgow Warriors not so long ago and went very close against the Scarlets last weekend. We have to respect what they will bring and then bring our own energy to the table and hope to get a performance that is good enough to keep us on top of the conference."

He may only be starting out in his Leinster career but he is already making the right noises. Time now for the right actions on the pitch on Sunday against the Southern Kings.

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