Joe Schmidt insisted he had not picked Test rookies Dave Foley and Dominic Ryan for show and backed them to get the job done against Georgia tomorrow at the Aviva Stadium.
Munster lock Foley, 27, and Leinster back row Ryan, 24, have been handed their Ireland debuts as Schmidt rotates his squad, not just with a six-day turnaround to Australia next week in mind but also a warm-up for next September’s World Cup pool campaign games on successive weekends against Canada, Romania, Italy and France.
The untested forwards are two of 13 changes to the side which started Saturday’s 29-15 victory over number two-ranked South Africa but Schmidt believes his incoming fringe players are more than capable of fulfilling their roles against a battle-hardened Georgia team.
“I think you try to give them some confidence, that they’re not there for show, that they’ve been selected to do a job because they are capable of doing that job,” Schmidt said yesterday.
“Dominic Ryan has been a powerful influence on games with his ability to hit people behind the gain line and win collisions, along with his work ethic. I think his ability to get around and have multiple involvements through phases of play has been good.
“Dave Foley brings a lineout intelligence. He’s impressed me, and the others in the coaching staff, in the way he’s worked on trying to have clarity in his role and in the roles of other line-out operators in the team, and that hopefully that will be borne out in the performance this weekend. He’s had the master to learn from in Paul O’Connell and that certainly helps him, and with Paul in camp this week that’s part of the opportunity to grow players, in that players who have been there already and have done a super job, you want to keep that intellectual property ticking over in the camp.”
Such is Foley’s self-belief that his first cap comes not before time.
“I was probably a little disappointed not to be involved last week,” Foley admitted. “That’s the selfish athlete in me. So this week is obviously a huge opportunity. I’ve been preparing for something like this since I joined the Munster Academy. I’m 27 now. So it’s a long time coming.”
Foley’s impatience is forgiven considering the wait he had for his chance at provincial level in the long line behind O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan at Munster. Having them in the Munster second row was certainly a wonderful education for the Clonmel forward but there was a flip side to it as well.
“It’s been a blessing and a curse at the same time. Because I’ve had to wait until I’m the age of 25 or 26 to get an opportunity. But I think now I’m incredibly well prepared, because I’ve had to wait, first and foremost, but I’ve probably had to learn from some of the best locks in the world. Donnacha Ryan is also there, Mick O’Driscoll before him. Add Paul and Donncha to the mix and you’ve a rake of caps there, so much experience.
“It’s very difficult to put it into words. I’ve been working since I’ve been in the Academy to play for Munster first and foremost. To be honest, my teachers would have often told my parents that I wasn’t up to a whole lot because I was daydreaming. And to be honest I was probably daydreaming about playing for Ireland.
“So mam would have said it, from the time I went up to the rugby club at the age of seven or eight, that I always said that I wanted to play for Ireland. I’m now getting that opportunity this week.”
Ryan’s ambition is equally long held, his patience just as tested at Leinster as Foley’s was at Munster.
“It is a luxury for Leinster to have such a selection of good quality back rows. But, it’s a pain in the ass for the players,” Ryan said. “It is about being patient. You can look at going to other clubs, different teams. You often want to stay at the best club in Europe. It’s going to require patience if you’re going to make it. An injury or two has let me get an opportunity and I will do my best.
“It’s funny, when I told my parents, at Lansdowne where I used to play my rugby, at the end of the year we used to have an awards ceremony. All the kids, there used to be a gap in the gate to the old Lansdowne Road and we used to sneak in the gap and none of the parents could get in. It was getting dark and I heard people shouting and me and two other lads were the only ones in there just running around.
“My dad said ‘what the hell are you doing in there? Come out, it’s time to go home’. And as I walked out of there I said ‘dad, some day I’m going to play for Ireland in there’.
“So, as a kid it’s a bit of a fantasy and as you get older it becomes more of a reality and then when you finally get named reality sets in.
“So just the thought of being there, lining up for the national anthems, it’s quite an emotional feeling , but I’m looking forward to it.”
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