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'It was bitterly disappointing but also motivating ' - World Cup cull forces rethink as Dillane roars back to life

Connacht star determined to change his game in effort to impress Farrell

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Left to right, Ireland players , Dave Heffernan, Ultan DIllane and Conor Murray at the announcement of Specsavers as the official Opticians and Audiologists for the Irish Rugby Football Union, as they head into battle for the Six Nations.

Left to right, Ireland players , Dave Heffernan, Ultan DIllane and Conor Murray at the announcement of Specsavers as the official Opticians and Audiologists for the Irish Rugby Football Union, as they head into battle for the Six Nations.

Left to right, Ireland players , Dave Heffernan, Ultan DIllane and Conor Murray at the announcement of Specsavers as the official Opticians and Audiologists for the Irish Rugby Football Union, as they head into battle for the Six Nations.

Maybe it's just ironic that Ultan Dillane is appearing at a gig for Specsavers because there was a time last summer when he really did think he might have to get his eyes tested.

At the very least, he might have been forgiven for repeatedly rubbing them in disbelief when Joe Schmidt's number flashed on his phone to deliver news that his World Cup dreams were over before they had even begun.

Even worse was to follow; with the stunned second-row eager to maintain his fitness regime - even without a Japanese excursion to plan for - his bosses in IRFU HQ then insisted he take a fortnight off.

Little wonder the Tralee-born totem struggled to adapt to the relatively moribund existence of the PRO14 while the rest of the world were enthralled by events in the Far East.

"It's the nature of the game," says Dillane, who wasn't even granted an audition in a live match before he was removed from the squad.

Former forwards coach Greg Feek said publicly he was looking better than he had done in some while, which was curious given he had played three times in the Six Nations.

"You get cut when you least expect it. You have to keep the head up. They explained it to me, whether it was not doing enough in training or not being what they wanted. It doesn't mean they don't want to pick you.

"Obviously it was bitterly disappointing but that gave me a new-found motivation to try even harder. Granted, it took a couple of months because I had a lull before I got a couple of good games under my belt.

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Dave Heffernan at the announcement of Specsavers as the official Opticians and Audiologists for the Irish Rugby Football Union, as they head into battle for the Six Nations.

Dave Heffernan at the announcement of Specsavers as the official Opticians and Audiologists for the Irish Rugby Football Union, as they head into battle for the Six Nations.

Dave Heffernan at the announcement of Specsavers as the official Opticians and Audiologists for the Irish Rugby Football Union, as they head into battle for the Six Nations.

"It wasn't for lack of trying. My peers in Connacht, Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux, were playing out of their skin and it's always healthy to have that competition.

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"It might have looked as if I wasn't playing well, it was just they were playing really well. That's the great thing about club, it lifts the standards all around.

"You just don't walk back into your position and the coaches there explain it to you as well. If you're not producing the stats they want from you, that's it. They're not trying to shaft you, they want you to be at your best and that's only fair."

Dillane took his fortnight off in the summer; ostensibly it was required for rest but after a week's holiday he couldn't resist the temptation to then train on his own, a world away from the unfolding drama in Japan.

It also allowed him to refine the elements of his game that he was told to work on; like Devin Toner, it was suggested that his inability to scrummage on the tighthead side was an issue.

Now it was his ambition to ensure it would no longer be one.

"My confidence wasn't high enough," he says now, reflecting on the difficult early-summer days in Maynooth before his exile.

"I wasn't comfortable enough, I didn't get on the ball, it was a multitude of things really. It was all fair and above board.

"And then I had to work on things when I came back to Connacht. I knew I wanted to scrummage on both sides of the scrum.

"And, to be fair, the Connacht coach allowed me to do that in Champions Cup, as well as calling the lineouts. And I think that might have given the international coaches a little confidence in me.

"It's stuff you aspire to do anyway. I want to have those strings to my bow and get those things consistently down in my game so hopefully over time I can get established as a player who can do all that."

With Tadhg Beirne marked absent, he might be eyeing a squad berth but he will have to elbow another World Cup absentee, Devin Toner, from the race to deputise for Iain Henderson and James Ryan.

Ryan and Henderson are nailed-on starters but Farrell now knows that he has a quartet of locks who are able to call lineouts even if not all of them can scrummage on the tighthead side.

Adaptability is a key watchword of the Farrell reign and Dillane's appreciation of this, however belated, may prove invaluable to the coaching team this spring.

With the removal of beefy imports Jean Kleyn and Quinn Roux, Farrell may also be keen to ensure that his pack are much more of a mobile, ball-playing unit rather than a stodgy, ball-carrying one.

Dillane is eager to prove that he can consistently apply himself at this level; those who admire his extraordinary talent are often frustrated by an occasional tendency to drift.

He admits he did so when returning to provincial duty this season but is eager to atone.

"When I did come back, I picked up a knock and missed matches here and there with niggles. So there were loads of knock-on effects and I probably used them as excuses not to play my best.

"Maybe I can be known as a bit too chilled but on the other hand that shouldn't detract from my willingness to be committed."

Nominally, there are three locks ahead of him but, as he showed in last season's campaign, his presence in an Irish team does not diminish its collective strength.

"It will be great to play and represent the country again," he says. "That's the reason you play.

"There's a lot of pressure with the change of management but with the small changes we're making, it's exciting and Scotland can't come quickly enough."

Specsavers, official opticians and audiologists' for the Irish Rugby Football Union have been testing the players eyesight with OCT technology, their most advanced eye exam to date. Find out more here: www.specsavers.ie

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