Thursday 14 December 2017

Kane Douglas: It was hard to walk away but this is a great opportunity

Wallaby lock Kane Douglas has no regrets about sacrificing his World Cup ambitions

Kane Douglas is put through his paces amongst new Leinster team-mates at training this week
Kane Douglas is put through his paces amongst new Leinster team-mates at training this week

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Kane Douglas is by no means the tallest man in the Leinster pack - that honour goes to the 6ft 10ins Devin Toner - but at 6ft 8ins and weighing in at over 120 kilos, he is no shrinking violet.

As he sits down to reflect on his first week as a Leinster Rugby player, he is content with what he has seen and how his first full week has gone.

"Yeah good - definitely nervous at the start and probably a bit hesitant in those first few sessions. But that's natural I think. There is learning calls and moves, but leaving that aside you have to learn names! But so far so good, a good bunch of lads."

A lot of information surely to take in for a first week, but the beauty of modern technology meant that he had a head start of sorts before arriving up on Monday morning to lay claim to the No 15 squad number. He also had some trusty lieutenants on hand.

"Leo Cullen has been great, he gave me an excellent briefing. Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings. . . they all went through stuff with me and it is always better that way than looking at a screen or piece of paper," he says.

There was also a familiar Aussie voice waiting for him when he touched down.

Bunking

"I've been bunking in with Matt (O'Connor) and his family the first week. It was a bit late arriving on Friday night so I hope I didn't wake the whole house. But they've been great and hearing an accent from home has made the settling in process all the easier.

"But I won't outstay my welcome either. I hope to be moving in to a new place in Blackrock by the weekend. It's a nice area and not too far from our training base in UCD."

So why Kane? Why now? With the retirement of the aforementioned Cullen at the end of last season, there was a gap that needed filling. A significant one at that. Cullen had captained Leinster to three Heineken Cups, a feat no other captain has achieved. He has won countless other honours, not to mention iconic status amongst those that take to the RDS terracing week in, week out.

Big shoes to fill, but Matt O'Connor believes that Douglas has what it takes.

"Kane is an exceptional sportsman and a very honest and humble individual and I know that he will be a success here at Leinster," he says.

"Of course, it will take him time to settle but for a young man he brings with him considerable experience to add to what is already an impressive roster of locks."

A young man indeed. Still only 25, he has 14 Australian caps to his name and finished off a final season in Australia with a Super 15 title with the Waratahs. Barely a year out from the World Cup, it seems like a lot to walk away from.

"I took a lot of time over the decision, a few months really, and I spoke to the right people. You have to weigh everything up and of course those reasons you mention make it difficult to walk away from," he concedes.

"But I am still young and I have been with the one club since I was 17, so this is a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. Not only for me but my girlfriend Jennarly as well."

And what impact, if any, did former Leinster coach - currently in charge of the Waratahs - Michael Cheika have?

"Very little to be honest, as the process is with the Australian Rugby Union, but of course he wanted me to stay, but he understood my reasoning and once I had my mind made up he supported that decision. He doesn't hold a grudge and ultimately we had games left to play," says Douglas.

"He had fun off it as well. Most sunny days at training were associated with remarks around waving goodbye to that little orange thing in the sky providing light and heat!

"But once the decision was made of course he offered advice with regard to practical stuff like where was good to live and base ourselves and he had only good things to say about the club, the culture, the environment."

The announcement that Douglas would be coming to Leinster was made at the end of May so there has been quite a bit of waiting. Not least because at any moment the Australian Rugby Union could have called him up to their Rugby Championship squad. He is grateful to national head coach Ewen McKenzie in that regard.

"Yeah, again Ewen was pretty good about the whole thing. We sat down ahead of the second Test with the All Blacks and discussed the options and as long as the squad kept well and injury-free, I was good to go," he says.

"That was great as then I finally had a date in my mind so had clarity around my situation. Up until that point it was a lot of waiting around and wondering."

That chapter is closed for the time being for Douglas but the opportunity to pull on the Wallabies jersey some time again in the future is not too far away from his thoughts.

"It all depends on where my head is at in a few years' time but obviously I loved pulling on that jersey and I love living in Australia and one day would love to move back. But that will be a decision for Jennarly and me down the road," he says.

The first on-field challenge for Douglas is the Cardiff Blues this evening in front of a raucous home crowd.

"I watched some Pro12 and a fair bit of Ulster games as a mate of mine Sean Doyle played with them so I saw a few of the teams through following him. Cardiff have some big names like Sam Warburton and then also recruited well during the summer," he says.

There is also the small matter of the mother and father of all derbies - Munster in the Aviva tomorrow week.

"Of course the focus this week is Cardiff and my first start in the RDS. If we are not focused on that challenge we'll get caught. But derbies and a full Aviva can't but energise you. It is those experiences that I want. It is great to get it so early in my tenure," says Douglas.

"Before then though we have to put a performance together against Cardiff and I have to play well. There has been a lot of talk. A lot of waiting, it's really now just about pulling on the jersey and getting stuck in."

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