Best backs new kid on block Kilcoyne to be No1 hit
DAVE KILCOYNE was the recipient of resounding endorsement from coaches and colleagues at Ireland's temporary base at the Dunboyne Castle Hotel, Co Meath.
The Munster prop's rise to prominence has been meteoric. It's not that long since he was learning his craft with UL Bohemian in the All-Ireland League. In fact, last April he was celebrating having helped Bohs earn promotion to Division 1A.
He made only one start for Munster last season and it's astonishing that, in total, Kilcoyne has made just 18 appearances for Munster, including 12 starts this season in the province's marquee Heineken Cup and Pro12 fixtures.
Born in Ballinacurra, a suburb of Limerick, Kilcoyne played GAA with Old Christians, soccer with Summerville and rugby with UL Bohs while growing up.
At school in Ardscoil Ris, the dynamic Kilcoyne played in a side which reached a Munster Schools Junior Cup final. He began his rugby career here as a back-row forward, but moved up to the front-row.
The 24-year-old has won four Ireland caps to date as a replacement, including making substitute appearances in both of his country's Six Nations fixtures with Wales and England in recent weeks and is favourite to start in Cian Healy's stead against Scotland.
Ireland hooker Rory Best will have no worries if Declan Kidney opts to put Kilcoyne in alongside him for his first senior start on Sunday week.
"We haven't had a lot of scrums together, but the few we've had he's done really well," said Best.
"I've been watching David this season and the Munster scrum has been going well. He looks to be going well in the scrum as well as around the pitch.
"I suspect that Tom Court will come onto the bench or will start. Both the boys are going really, really well. Loosehead prop is one position in Ireland we have a lot of depth in. It's a shame not to have Cian there, but the quality of the two boys being able to step in is hugely encouraging."
Best hasn't propped against Kilcoyne in a competitive arena, having missed both Ulster/Munster games this season, but he has seen enough of him on television to know he will revel in the step up.
"We had a few scrummaging sessions last Wednesday in training and he was really tough. With the amount of rugby on television these days there's not many games you miss and I always keep an eye out for the other Irish teams.
"It's (an international start) going to be another step up for him, but he's had these step-ups this season and has taken them in his stride.
"Whichever one of Dave or Tom starts, it will be no problem to them," Best added.
Ireland defensive coach Anthony Foley, who is also Kilcoyne's forwards' coach in Munster, is not one to betray his emotions or go overboard in reference to an individual player.
Kilcoyne is, in his words, "a good lad," which is about as good as it gets with Foley.
"Like all young players he's got a lot of enthusiasm and brings vigour to what he does. He's come on leaps and bounds in his scrummaging, he's a very aggressive ball carrier and is good at what he does around the pitch. He brings a lot, on and off the pitch."
That Best's only visible reminder of Sunday's bruising loss to England is a black eye is somewhat surprising, given the heavy injury count the Ireland team – the forwards in particular – reported in the aftermath.
Both second-rows, for example, are in varying states of disrepair. The dressing-room on Sunday was, Best recalled, like a casualty ward. "Certainly the body showed the damage on Sunday night and Monday.
"After the game you could see that the injuries picked up were not just knocks and bruises, the feeling was that the best-case scenario would be those injured will just miss the Scotland game. It's a physical sport and in these games the casualty rate can be high."
Ireland were, Best believes, beaten up by England in the close exchanges and that is something the Ulster hooker will be determined to put right when Ireland take on Scotland in Murrayfield on Sunday week.
"From my point of view, I thought up front we were physically beaten up by England. I won't say we were dominated, but we were beaten up at times," he said.
"Scotland will be very much the same in Murrayfield, all the more so after they had a very good win over Italy. They showed they can score tries. You know they are going to be very confident. And Murrayfield is a tough place to go, especially for Ireland teams.
"We will expect them to be very physical around the line-out, be good in the scrum and they will also counter-attack well.
"We need to address our issues this week from last weekend and also look ahead as to how we can nullify Scotland We need to front up and really show that we can be better in the physical stakes."
The Ireland players, who leave their temporary base in Dunboyne Castle Hotel today, are back in camp on Sunday night.