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Heaven, hell and purgatory - the story behind Caelan Doris' Six Nations

Catapulted into the team, injured within four minutes of his debut, now playing the waiting game, the 21-year-old has had a rollercoaster start to international rugby.

Doris' championship has had highs and lows.
Doris' championship has had highs and lows.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IT STARTS LIKE a dream – New Year, new coach, new era, new cap. Told on the Tuesday he was starting against Scotland, Caelan Doris had five days to think about his Ireland debut, then just four minutes to reflect on it.

How do you get your head something like that, something like concussion? “Obviously I was disappointed to come off so early but still delighted to have been involved,” Doris says. “It has been a good learning curve; enjoyable.”

There shouldn’t have been too much to enjoy about getting a bang on the head on your first international but when he was symptom free the following morning, he’d a clear vision of where he wanted to go. The first stop was the medical room, a reminder he’d picked up a concussion earlier in the season against Treviso.

Instructed to be cautious, the Wales game was off the agenda, his team mates sympathetic to his predicament. “Having had my first (concussion) in my first start for Leinster, and then another in my first international start, well you hope that’s the two of them out of the way now. It was good to be back involved at Twickenham.”

caelan-doris-goes-off-injured Doris goes off injured after four minutes of his debut. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

All this drama hadn’t been part of his original agenda. Post World Cup, he’d been looking to nail down a spot with Leinster, but that was about it. “I wasn’t targeting international games this year at all, really.”

Then Jack Conan got injured in Japan. A door opened and he didn’t wait to knock – knowing that at this level, it’s all about seizing the moment. “I was happy with how I was playing for Leinster, and then happy to be part of that stock-taking before the Six Nations squad, and to go from there.

“The fact is there’s so much competition for a place on the team. Even back in Leinster, there’s so much depth and we’ve seen throughout the season that it is constantly pushing the standard up. 

“So basically you know that when you get the opportunity that you have to perform and you have to leave it all out there. It’s a positive thing, definitely.”

This week, however, has been somewhat mixed. Having bounced back from the concussion to win his second cap at Twickenham, Doris was one of only a few players to be publicly praised by Farrell afterwards. Another start against the Italians seemed inevitable. But no joy there.

Nor was there much joy sitting in the Twickenham stands watching the first half of last Sunday’s game. “They are a quality team and when we give them a start like that it’s obviously going to be tough. We went through the vicious cycle of giving them entry, giving them momentum, the crowd getting behind them.

caelan-doris Doris in full flight against England. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It was frustrating at times (to be sitting on the bench during Ireland’s first-half meltdown). I was looking forward to getting on and trying to stamp my mark on it as best as I could.

“At half-time Andy told us to just show the character that we have and match them up front, pointing out that we hadn’t thrown a shot in anger yet. Looking back now, we’re happy with the second half but we have so much to work on.”

Work won’t be happening until March 14, however – the postponement of the Italy game leaving a three-week gap between matches. Purgatory. 

“I’m just looking forward to going again. 

Once you get a taste of international rugby, you want more and more. It was like that at Leinster, too. You get a couple of games and you want to play in bigger ones. Then you play in Europe, then you play for Ireland, and don’t want it to stop.”

But it has stopped – temporarily. “Look, we’re still right in the mix for this championship,” he says.

The problem is no one knows when this Six Nations season will end.

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About the author:

Garry Doyle

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