Ultan Dillane hopes classy cameo effort can keep him in squad

Ultan Dillane could have been speaking for his fellow Ireland debutants by expressing hope his Twickenham entrance into Test rugby was impressive enough to keep him in the match-day squad for the rest of the RBS 6 Nations campaign.
Ultan Dillane hopes classy cameo effort can keep him in squad

Defeat to England on Saturday killed off any remaining hope of Ireland making it three titles in a row but with Italy and Scotland visiting Dublin this month the outgoing champions still have plenty to prove, not least Dillane and fellow new boys Stuart McCloskey and Josh van der Flier.

Despite the 21-10 loss that leaves Ireland still searching for a first victory of the 2016 campaign, the trio of rookies all made impressive contributions for head coach Joe Schmidt and Connacht lock Dillane, 22, is now hoping his 15-minute turn off the replacements’ bench will be enough to keep him in contention to face Italy at the Aviva Stadium on March 12.

He certainly made an impact, coming on for Donnacha Ryan in the 65th minute, stealing a lineout and making a charging line break to combine with Van der Flier and get Ireland to the five-metre line as they strove to get back into the contest.

Their efforts came to nought but the debutants’ efforts were a big positive for the rest of the championship and beyond.

“We were all asked before the game what we wanted to bring into the game and I wanted a bit of physicality,” Dillane said. “I wanted to be an impact sub. I hope that came across, anyway.

“I’m glad I confirmed what the coaches thought so hopefully, it would be amazing to get another run in a couple of weeks. We’ll prep well for that now.”

With something of a vacuum in Ireland’s second row options following the retirement of captain Paul O’Connell and injuries to Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy and most recently Mike McCarthy, Dillane could well be set for more exposure to Test rugby in the coming weeks as he puts pressure on starting locks Ryan and Devin Toner.

At 1.98m and 115 kgs, Dillane is certainly built for the job and he put his frame, power and athleticism to effective use, even if he was feeling the effects of the big step up in physicality from Pro 12 to Test rugby.

“I thought I was coming on to tired bodies and when I got the chance to run at them I put a bit of pace into it. The physicality is definitely the big step up. I’m a bit battered and bruised after 15 minutes. God knows what would happen for 80! It was a really great step up. I liked it.”

Dillane also credited the Twickenham crowd whose rousing delivery of Swing Low Sweet Chariot also helped the Tralee man hit the ground running.

“That really got rid of the nerves. I got a bit angry and got more in the zone! I was keen to come on at that point; I wanted to prove a point to a few people out there. That’s good to hear.

“I think it was a bit of an adrenaline rush. Even looking back I’m not even too sure how the line break came about. We’ll take it, I suppose.”

The progression to the Test arena also had an impact on Leinster flanker Van der Flier, named at openside for a debut covering the injured Sean O’Brien and looking equally at home as he mixed it at the breakdown with James Haskell and Chris Robshaw, carried with poise and had a strong claim for a debut try only for TMO Shaun Veldsman to say no try after citing no clear or obvious grounding.

“It was a bit of a step up from where I was or what level I have played before,” Van der Flier said. “It seemed very stop-start, throughout the first half anyway, a lot of breaks for TMO and that kind of thing. It wasn’t actually too bad, I felt comfortable enough.

“The body has taken a bit of a shock from the game but it is all good.”

Making his debut alongside fellow start McCloskey was beneficial, Van der Flier said, although he was self-critical of his handling of England’s one-man wrecking ball, No.8 and man of the match Billy Vunipola.

“We just said to each other, ‘enjoy it.’ Just try and take in the atmosphere. Playing in Twickenham is unbelievable. We had just been focused on enjoying it and it helps that we were in the same boat.

“I thought Ultan was unbelievable. Stuart played a really good game as well. I would like to think for them that they would be putting up their hands for the next couple of games.”

As for Vunipola he added: “It’s tough. I got a one-on-one with him off the back of a scrum, went too high and he just punishes bad tackling I suppose. So it was quite an experience. I have had those kind of players before, like playing (Duane) Vermeulen and (Steffon) Armitage against Toulon; you just have to go low and I didn’t. I tried to tackle high and got bounced off.

“I made a lot of mistakes. It is good having such good quality opposition. England are an unbelievable team, good individuals. Having that quality of players against you is good to benchmark yourself against. They got the upper hand.”

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