After Sean O’Brien singlehandedly flew the flag for the club during the past decade, Tullow RFC now have a new favourite son in the shape of Ireland U20s prop Charlie Ward.
A member of the squad for the 2019 World Championship in Argentina, Ward has featured in the opening two rounds of this year’s Six Nations. He credits O’Brien for not just elevating his rugby career, but for inspiring the explosion of exploding the participation rates throughout the Co Carlow outfittown.
“I knew him well,” said Ward.
“I think around Tullow we all know each other. It’s not the biggest town.
“From a club perspective, he just grew the club so much. I started playing minis there. He hadn’t gotten to the big time at that stage and there weren’t many playing.
“Once he played, the numbers just started flooding in. ” Ward explained.
“Now we’re filling teams out in our league in U13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Which wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago. Rugby is loved by the aul’ lads in the club.
“It’s bred into everyone in Tullow. It’s pretty much the biggest sport in the town.”
Though he is in his second year at this age grade, Ward is by no means guaranteed a starting spot for Friday’s round three clash with England in Northampton (kick-off 7.45pm).
Having received the nod for the championship opener against Scotland at Musgrave Park, he was then relegated to the replacements bench when Wales arrived in Cork just seven days later.
While he was introduced to his favoured position of loosehead in the latter, Ward actually ended up finishing the contest on the opposite side of the scrum.
Given the fierce competition for places within Noel McNamara’s match day squad — never mind the starting 15 — he says that he is happy to display his versatility for the time being.
“I don’t mind switching across,” said Ward.
“Playing AIL [with Clontarf] helps that as well. If you’re sub in the AIL, you’ve to be ready to come on either side. Going forward, I prefer loosehead, because I wouldn’t be big enough to be a professional tighthead.
“I’m never going to be 118kg tighthead and able to move. It is tough [to switch].
“It’s hard to get your bearings right, but because I’ve been doing it more now, you kind of get used to it. It’s not too bad.”
As is traditionally the case at this level, the defending champions are expected to encounter a physical England pack at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday. However, Ward believes the Irish forwards have all the ingredients required to take them on their cross-channel rivals.
“They’re big men, obviously,” he said.
“You see a few of them playing Premiership. They’re going to be big. We know what to expect from them, so we’re just focused on what we can do going into the game.
“We outlined from the start that it’s going to be a point of difference. The old saying [goes] that forwards win games, backs decide by how much.
“We’ve a great pack, so if we can use that to our advantage we’ll be flying.”