Caelan Doris relishing first taste of closed-roof Cardiff atmosphere 

The Leinster back row star is looking forward to taking on Wales in a packed Principality Stadium
Caelan Doris relishing first taste of closed-roof Cardiff atmosphere 

HAPPY HOUR: Caelan Doris faces the travelling Irish press, including Examiner Sport's Simon Lewis at The Campus, Faro this week. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

As Caelan Doris eased back into his chair at Quinta do Lago this week, stretched out his long, back-rower’s legs and settled in for a chat with the travelling Irish rugby media, there was little to suggest he is a young man easily knocked off kilter.


Your home for the latest news, views and analysis of this year's Six Nations Championship from our award winning sports team.


Your home for the latest news, views and analysis of this year's Six Nations Championship from our award winning sports team.

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This afternoon’s 2023 Guinness Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff will be the 24-year-old’s first game under the roof of the Principality Stadium, which a sell-out crowd of 74,500 will do its best to raise, no doubt with a rebellious rendition of “Delilah”, banned by the WRU this week from being sung by its official on-pitch choirs.

Whatever the noise made in one of the most atmospheric match venues in Test rugby on Saturday, Doris has learned to embrace it, regardless of which set of supporters are making it, a lesson taken from his Leinster and Ireland captain Johnny Sexton.

“Can’t wait. From talking about it last week and earlier on this week with some of the lads, the atmosphere is right up there with the best, so I’m definitely excited for that,” Doris said.

“I do enjoy it, yeah. Ideally there’ll be cheers for us, but either way. I remember Johnny saying before - think it came from Brad Thorn - that he got inspired from bums on seats, regardless of who they were cheering for. So, I think that’s quite a good message going into this one.” 

Earlier this week when recalling his first Test game at the Principality, Munster and Ireland lock Tadhg Beirne said he was shocked by the level of noise that greeted him when he stepped onto the pitch. Such anecdotal evidence from older players, the groundwork laid by performance coach Gary Keegan and his own personal experience of playing in front of the first sell-out Test crowd away from Dublin in the post-Covid world have all helped to prepare Doris for what is to come on this opening day of the championship.

“Yeah, going into the Stade de France last year we’d mentioned it but probably hadn’t fully understood the level of the noise from the warm-up right the whole way through. So, that was a learning off the back of that game that we’ve brought into this one and there’s been more talk about it and more awareness of what we’re going into.

“The awareness so that it’s not a complete shock. You know it’s coming, and then just staying tight, trying to stay present in the moment, taking deep breaths, getting our nervous system into a neutral state, all of that sort of stuff is going to be helpful.” 

The return of limited crowds to stadia in the summer of 2021 was followed by the full reopening of Aviva Stadium to supporters for Ireland games that November and Doris agreed that playing for more than 12 months in empty arenas had made him appreciate the return to normality and full houses even more, even on away days such as this weekend.

“Yeah, I love it. I didn’t play over there when it was empty (in February 2021) either but just the difference it makes having a full crowd. It’s just much more of a spectacle and way more enjoyable.” 

KEY MAN: Caelan Doris during Friday's Captain's Run. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
KEY MAN: Caelan Doris during Friday's Captain's Run. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

That 2021 game, which Ireland lost following an early red card for Peter O’Mahony was the fourth Sixth Nations defeat in Cardiff in succession, which had Doris scratching his head for memories of Irish successes in the Welsh capital.

“Well, we haven’t much success over there. No games spring to mind. O’Gara’s drop kick, was that over there? But I think it’s only one win over there in the last 10 years, or something like that. So, it’s definitely a tough place to go.

“We’ve spoken quite a bit about having a fast start and hopefully not letting their crowd get in too much behind them. Possession is big for them and territory, so an early, accurate start is going to be important for us.” 

Ireland’s paramount aim this weekend is to continue the momentum that has gathered under Farrell and of which Doris has been an integral part, one of the head coach’s most trusted players with his 22 starts in 23 caps and one of the team’s leaders for minutes played on his watch. Only full-back Hugo Keenan (1,941), and lock James Ryan (1,738) have clocked up more game time in the Farrell era than Doris’s 1,589 as Ireland have climbed back to the top of the world rankings on the back a Six Nations Triple Crown, series win in New Zealand and November victories over world champions South Africa, Fiji and Australia.

A first Six Nations title since the Grand Slam of 2018 is the next milestone for Doris and his generation of players to aim for.

“Yeah, yeah, definitely, and it’s one where momentum is massive. Like, before each game you can’t really look ahead to the next one, because each game is so big in itself. But it’s important starting well with, hopefully, a win and trying to build momentum and build performances. Yeah, hugely exciting.

“I mean we do need to keep evolving, and keep improving for the World Cup. But the Six Nations is huge in itself as well. So I think both goals are aligned in that if we do well in this it’s going to leave us in good stead for the World Cup as well.” 

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