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'He ended up buying me a pair of boots. I wear them all the time now on the grass pitches'

Matthew Dalton, left, and Jack Dunne
Matthew Dalton, left, and Jack Dunne
Ireland U-20s lock Matthew Dalton. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It wasn't until Matthew Dalton was in second year in school that he began to realise how much of a big deal Iain Henderson was around the corridors of Belfast Royal Academy.

Soccer and athletics had dominated Dalton's agenda before rugby took a hold and he began to closely watch how Henderson plays the game.

The versatile Ireland U-20s lock suddenly found himself training alongside the man who he was trying to base his game around, and then Henderson went above and beyond to help him settle.

Prior to Ulster's Guinness PRO14 clash against Connacht back in December, the Ireland and Lions player arrived to the captain's run with a new pair of boots for Dalton, who had still been wearing his soccer boots up to that point.

"I never really used to play with six studs at the front of the boot," Dalton explained.

"But all the front-rows were shouting at me and being nice and messing about it, then he ended up buying me a pair of boots. I wear them all the time now on the grass pitches."

It might only have been a small gesture, but for a player who is still very much finding his way in rugby, it meant an awful lot.

The 19-year-old has been a hugely physical presence for the U-20s, while his deceptive pace is a constant threat.

That all comes from his athletics background, and in particular the number of years he spent competing in the pentathlon.

In the win over Scotland last week, Dalton clocked up his record time (9.1 metres per second) on the GPS - not bad for someone who stands at 198cm and weighs in at 110kgs.

"I have a few Ireland vests up in my school - one of them is for the pentathlon and one is for the high jump," he said.

"I think I've carried on my speed from then, but it's a lot different. I kind of like the introverted-ness of the athletics but then the team aspect of rugby enticed me in.

"When you're young and in athletics, you're learning to progress your fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibres. You're not doing any weights so you're not really looking to prevent injury.

"You're just doing mobility and plyometrics stuff and it's just building a base for you to progress into further sports if you want to.

"This next couple of years I've got to stick the head down and keep at it because I couldn't have been given a better opportunity."

Ireland U-20 (v England tomorrow) - M Silvester; J Hume, T O'Brien (capt), A Curtis, A Kernohan; H Byrne, H O'Sullivan; J Duggan, E Clarke, J Aungier; M Dalton, J Dunne; J Dunleavy, M Agnew, J O'Sullivan.

Reps: D Barron, J French, T O'Toole, R Coffey, S Masterson, J Stewart, C Dean, S O'Brien.

Independent.ie's U-20s Six Nations coverage is in association with PwC

Irish Independent

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