A year is a long time in rugby, but not long enough for Duncan Casey to stop appreciating the opportunity he is being given to cement a place in Munster’s front row.
When the Cork-born Shannon hooker runs out at Thomond Park tomorrow night to face Ulster, it will be nine days short of the anniversary of his debut on the same ground, a late substitute appearance in the Heineken Cup win over Perpignan.
And it was in Ravenhill last January, that Casey made a more telling contribution as he replaced the injured Damien Varley just before half-time, nailing his first lineout throw on the way to a very successful first year in a Munster jersey.
Casey’s rise to prominence has been invaluable to the province, with both Mike Sherry and Varley on the long-term injury list but the 24-year-old balks at the idea that he is now Munster’s first-choice hooker.
“I don’t know if you could say that I am number one, to be honest,” Casey said. “I am number one at the moment, because of the circumstances that have been presented to me. Rugby is a very fickle game and there is no better example of that than the injuries to Mick Sherry and Damien Varley, which has given me my opportunity.
“I wouldn’t say that I am a nailed down number one, by any stretch of the imagination. It can all change in the blink of an eye and I am very aware of that. I am just trying to play the best that I can at the moment and feel I am contributing as much as I can to the team. I certainly won’t take this for granted and I don’t intend to. It can all change very, very quickly.”
As quickly as it takes to get a try taken from you — as Casey discovered last Friday night in Newport. He was initially credited with two tries, his first for Munster, only to see the second later awarded to Paddy Butler.
“Paddy has been credited with one of them,” he said. “There were no cameras there so no-one knows any better, I suppose.
“I got a few texts after the game from people who would never normally text me, congratulating me. Unfortunately I did not get two, but it was my first in a red shirt all right, so that is something to remember.”
Casey’s form is being remembered beyond Munster, with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt name-checking him this month as someone on his radar, again underlining how quickly fortunes can change in this game.
“If you were to take this weekend’s game against Ulster, I came off the bench just before half-time up in Ravenhill, at the start of January this year. It was a real shock to the system.
“I was nervous coming off the bench. When someone goes down and you are thrown straight on, you have to have the mentality of not messing things up.
“Eleven months on now, and I’m looking forward to the encounter and I think I can contribute to the team’s performance and hopefully contribute to the team getting a result. Confidence and experience go hand in hand.
“Obviously (playing for Ireland) will be a target down the line. I was not annoyed or anything like that, not to be included in the autumn series. I didn’t expect to be included. As I said, I am trying to get my game to a level where I can contribute as much as I can to the team.
“I’m not trying to smack of false modesty when I say that, because I am reasonably happy with how the last couple of months have gone, but I feel I am nowhere near reaching my ceiling as a player. I look forward to reaching that in the coming weeks and months and hopefully getting closer to that green jersey.
“At the moment I am only concerned about Munster and doing my best for the squad, because it has been a real rollercoaster ride over the last few months, so I am just concentrating on enjoying that at the moment.”
Nonetheless, with Ulster captain Rory Best and Leinster pair Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss each starting a game for Ireland, and with Ulster’s other hooker Rob Herring also with national camp experience already, Casey is under no illusions of the standards he must aspire to.
“They are obviously a lot more experienced than me. They have achieved a lot more than I have. In terms of what I would like to achieve in my career, you could definitely say that (they are the yardstick). They are all top quality players.
“They certainly set the benchmark for younger hookers in this country to achieve. So, yes I am looking forward to, hopefully down the line, achieving what they have achieved.”
Casey may be able to measure his progress against Best this weekend. “If he is playing, I would look forward to it. It would certainly be a opportunity to pit myself against one of the best international hookers in the world and I think it would be fair to say he is in that category.
“It would be something I would be relishing,” he added.
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