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'My most enjoyable game so far' - Doris thrives in Ireland's new attacking set-up

The versatile back-rower hopes Ireland can continue to play positive rugby when New Zealand come to town on Saturday.

Doris takes possession against Japan.
Doris takes possession against Japan.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

CAELAN DORIS has faced the Haka just once in his career, and it’s an experience he’d rather forget.

The date was 8 June, 2017, and a pool game at the U20 World Championships. Ireland – who had beaten the Baby Blacks at that grade a year previously – took a three point lead before shipping 11 tries in an unmerciful 69-3 defeat.

“That was over in Georgia, I’m not sure if I want to bring back those memories,” Doris says. 

“There is plenty of highlights from their play which are still popping up on Instagram every now and then. A few of the tries they scored were pretty special. I remember we went 3-0 up, I was sitting on the bench thinking ‘Oh jeez, here we go’ and then we didn’t score again and they scored 69, so it wasn’t the best.”

Doris is one of a number of players in Farrell’s squad who have yet to play New Zealand at senior level – with Hugo Keenan, Ronan Kelleher and Jack Conan among the others – and with that in mind there has been an added focus on mental preparation this week.

caelan-doris Doris runs into traffic against the New Zealand U20s in 2017. Source: Archil Gegenava/INPHO

“In terms of mental prep there probably will be a bit of visualisation around the Haka, around coming up against them,” Doris explains.

“It’s kind of getting the balance right between preparing as you would and not making too big of a deal around them.”

The fixture comes at an intriguing time for Farrell’s squad. Last weekend’s free-flowing performance against Japan suggested the team is developing nicely, but with so little rugby played this year, testing themselves against New Zealand represents a major jump in intensity.

The game plan against Japan also suited Doris nicely and kept him heavily involved on both sides of the ball, the versatile back-rower finishing with 11 carries and seven passes.

“From the first couple of minutes all the way through, I really enjoyed it. It’s probably my most enjoyable game so far,” he says.

“There will probably be less opportunities in terms of unstructured attack (this weekend). I think our unstructured was good on Saturday, lots of options across the pitch, good lines of running and it opened up spaces in their D.

“The All Blacks are going to be better than that, they’ll be more connected so we’ll have less opportunities, so we’re going to need to be on it and take them when we get them.

But it’s going to be a battle of the gainline as well, winning collisions is going to be huge. Looking at some of their back-rowers, (Ardie) Savea is obviously an extremely strong carrier in contact and makes loads of yards after contact, so on both sides of the ball, collision winning is going to be big.”

The attacking structure utilised against Japan also saw Doris, wearing six on his back, interchange nicely with the starting number eight, Jack Conan.

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“Last week we mixed it up even more between six and eight in terms of we shared the workload across the back row between the edges and the middle even more so than usual. 

“So, between getting a back row to the edge or getting one to the middle… Ideally we would have one on each edge and one in the middle and it is kind of just chatting in the game and he is doing some more of the lineout jumping role and I’m doing more of the other role.”

As Saturday showed, when it all comes together it’s a highly enjoyable experience for the players. Yet Farrell’s squad know that if last weekend provided a feel-good factor around the group, New Zealand will serve as a more telling sign of where this team is in terms of their development.

“It’s exciting testing ourselves against the best in the world. We are not quite in a development stage but still growing a team, some new members in there and a fair bit of mixture between experienced and less experienced players and it’s sort of a new style of rugby that we are looking to play that the coach has brought in the last couple of years.

“It’s promising to see how it went on Saturday, and looking forward to it to developing more this weekend hopefully.” 


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Ciarán Kennedy

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