Dardis and Ireland U20s aiming to replicate Schmidt's senior set-up

The exciting fullback explains how Leinster training sessions have helped his development.

IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a little excitement in your rugby life, you could do a lot worse than taking a trip to Donnybrook tomorrow evening.

Billy Dardis Dardis has been excellent for Ireland U20s so far this year. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Nigel Carolan’s Ireland U20s host England in the third round of the Six Nations [KO 19.05] and judging by their performances so far, we’re in for more entertaining, skillful and incisive rugby.

Ireland come into the game off the back of wins over Italy and France, with 11 tries scored across the two games. Fullback Billy Dardis has dotted down twice already, and impressed with his footwork, reading of the game and pace.

“Yeah, we’ve had two very good wins,” says Dardis. “The French game was a great win for us at home and the Italian game was just about adapting to the horrendous conditions.

“The French game, we just came together well and things started clicking. We worked as hard as we could for the win and it was a good result. The crowd seemed to enjoy it as well.”

Indeed, that 37-20 victory underlined the potential of his Irish group, although England recorded a nine-try win over Italy the same day. It means tomorrow night’s fixture is almost certain to be the toughest assignment yet for Dardis and his teammates.

So far, they lost narrowly to Wales and hammered Italy – they put 61 points on them! There wasn’t a huge amount you could take from the Italian game. They seemed to move everywhere.

“They had it up front, they had it out wide. It was the Welsh game that maybe we could pick out little things that we can seize on for opportunities and threats.

“They’ve got a great pack and up front, great props who scrummage and carry well. Out wide, they have two wingers in [George] Perkins and [Howard] Packman who are really dangerous.”

Dardis himself is likely to have been pinpointed by the English set-up as a key Irish threat, given his daring with ball in hand, strong decision making and ability to beat defenders in limited space.

Billy Dardis scores his side's third try Dardis dots down against the French two weekends ago. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Naas man excelled for Newbridge College and then Terenure during his school days, the decision to move to the latter partly motivated by rugby. Dardis credits coaches like Des Thornton as essential to his growth as a player in those younger years.

The Leinster academy flyer also played Gaelic football right up until his fourth year of secondary school, before an increasingly intense rugby schedule called for specialisation.

“Even today I love it,” says Dardis, “Gaelic is an incredible sport. It helps with kicking the ball, catching the ball, everything.”

The open spaces of the Gaelic pitches have also helped with that impressive footwork Dardis possesses, although he also credits his ambitious coaches in that regard: “In Terenure we would have always been given the license to play.”

Dardis is currently combining his rugby with a degree in Health and Performance Science at UCD, dual demands he admits can be tiring. The fullback is still based out of Naas, taking the short spin up the N7 to Dublin each day, so home comforts help.

His club rugby is also with UCD, where many of his Ireland U20s teammates are playing.

“There’s a good spine of this team from UCD,” explains Dardis. “I think there’s eight of us. Nick [McCarthy], Ross [Byrne], Garry [Ringrose] and myself all play in the backline with UCD this year so I suppose it does help.

“We understand how each other play and there’s a good connection between us, but all of the other players are well capable of that as well. It’s enjoyable.”

Involvement with Leinster’s senior set-up is also driving Dardis’ development swiftly, with the former Naas RFC man having completed the full pre-season with Matt O’Connor’s squad last summer.

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Billy Dardis Dardis is enjoying being part of a positive Ireland U20s group. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Even now, when Dardis is not in Ireland U20s camp, a good week might see him called up to the senior Leinster squad two or three times.

“From training with them you learn a huge amount,” says Dardis. “I can sit back and watch Zane Kirchner and Rob Kearney and what they do. I learn a huge amount from that.

“I love training with the seniors. Getting used to that intensity and the pace of the game can only be good when you go play AIL or something like that. They’re good sessions. You’d always be wrecked after them but you always learn a huge amount from them.”

Replicating that sort of intensity and quality is one of the goals this Ireland U20s group has, a demand that appeals to Dardis’ competitiveness. Carolan is encouraging them to take “ownership and responsibility” of the squad, and the players are responding impressively.

It may be age-grade rugby, but Dardis and his teammates won’t accept anything but the very best from themselves.

We did an open session with the Ireland senior team about a month ago, the week before the Italian game. It was so encouraging; we actually did well enough against them.

“Afterwards we spoke about taking confidence and encouragement from that and replicating the senior environment as close as we can. We’ve really upped it in training. Everyone is really switched on and the intensity levels are incredible. It’s a great standard.

“All the players who aren’t involved are working very hard to get in there. It’s a good environment to be involved in.”

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Murray Kinsella

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