Craig Gilroy took a while to win Joe Schmidt over to the view he was a viable wing option for Ireland. Now he has to prove it in today’s second Test against South Africa but is hopeful Ellis Park can provide the perfect conditions to do so.
The Ulster wing today makes his first start for Ireland since November 2014, having fallen down the pecking order to the extent he was omitted from Schmidt’s World Cup squad last autumn.
Selection for this end of season tour to South Africa came off the back of some blistering form for his province, although only as a late addition when Leinster’s Luke Fitzgerald withdrew through injury.
Yet he was back in green for the final minutes of last Saturday’s opening Test, the famous first win on Springbok soil at Newlands and now comes the next step in the comeback.
“This will be my eighth cap and it’ll be a massive privilege and honour to play for my country.
"There are guys who go throughout professional rugby and they don’t get that opportunity, they don’t get capped by their country. I feel privileged to have had that opportunity and continue to get it,” Gilroy said.
“There are some guys who are a bit older than me and they’re getting their first cap. I’m always learning, I’m always training and working hard and I think I’ve won Joe over in a way and tried to bring my little bit of what I can do, add a bit of a spark and deliver what he wants as well.
“You get some wingers who maybe just stand on the wing and they wait for the ball. I think it’s important for a winger to use his licence to come off the wing and go looking for the ball and to just have a lot of energy in all aspects of play, whether that’s carrying the ball in contact or balls in the air or fielding, you need to be spot on and switched on in every aspect.
“That’s what Joe demands and I think that’s why he’s had such a successful team.”
The thought of getting his chance to shine at Ellis Park – he’s replacing Keith Earls, who started the first Test in Cape Town last week – is an exciting prospect for Gilroy.
The famous stadium, spiritual home to the Boks at 1700m above sea level in the heart of Johannesburg, is renowned for producing high-scoring games and the Ireland wing said: “The hard ground suits me well.
"Even back home, the 4G pitches – I like a fast track and to get my hands on the ball and do my thing.”
Gilroy comes into a back division featuring four of his provincial team-mates.
In addition to fly-half Paddy Jackson and inside centre Stuart Olding, who replaces another Ulsterman in Luke Marshall, he forms a back three with Andrew Trimble and full-back Jared Payne, Conor Murray at scrum-half and outside centre Robbie Henshaw providing the missing links.
“It’s an exciting backline,” Gilroy said. “Luke Marshall was fantastic in the first Test and it’s a big opportunity for Stu as well.
“You’ve got Trimby, Stu, Jacko, Jared and myself, obviously all Ulster guys who’ve played a lot of rugby and know each other.
“I look forward to playing with them on an international stage.”
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