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'His attitude reminds me of what I read about Wilkinson' - Casey and Baird debut

The 21-year-old pair won their first Ireland caps in the final quarter of the win over Italy.

Ryan Baird and Craig Casey with their first caps.
Ryan Baird and Craig Casey with their first caps.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

RYAN BAIRD’S FIRST carry spoke volumes about the athleticism that makes him something of a unique specimen.

It was a burst of power over 10 metres from the new Ireland lock and it served as an illustration that the 21-year-old could be a big part of the future at Test level.

The attack that followed very nearly ended with a James Lowe try but 21-year-old scrum-half Craig Casey, also just on for his Ireland debut in a 48-10 win against Italy, was adjudged to have popped the ball forward before Lowe broke clear.

Nonetheless, there were many signs of Casey’s energetic, high-tempo passing approach in his 17-minute cameo as he and Baird became the 12th and 13th new caps of the Andy Farrell era.

It’s only the beginning for Munster man Casey and Leinster lock Baird but Ireland are excited about what they can achieve.

“We have come in for some flack over the last few weeks but internally as a group, I don’t think we have ever been more confident about where we are going and what we can produce,” said captain Johnny Sexton post-match. “I mean that properly.

“With the coaches that we have and the leadership group coming out of their shells, this group is on the right trajectory. I properly believe that.

“Those two guys are going to play a huge part in that, just their character. Like, Craig Casey, I didn’t know him that well obviously – I had never played with him – but his attitude is… I don’t think I have ever come across anyone – it kind of reminds me of what I read about Jonny Wilkinson – that is the only person I can relate him to.

“It is inspiring for the rest of the group and for someone like me at this stage in my career. I like to be last off the pitch and I am never last off the pitch with him around. He has been brilliant.

“And Ryan was outstanding when he came on. He brought some energy, he is an incredible athlete.”

ryan-baird-is-tackled-by-johan-meyer Baird carries for Ireland. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was similarly impressed by the two new caps in Rome.

“I just said to them there, the two guys, I was waiting for their nerves to kick in all week,” said Farrell. “They were nerveless and it was an absolute credit to them and to their families.

“In these Covid times, I feel for the families not to be able to come out to Rome and see that experience because their sons were outstanding. They became men today.

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“They’d gone about their jobs quietly all week and nerves never really set in at all. The only thing that I asked of them today was to be themselves and they were that in spades.

“I thought they were outstanding.”

Farrell and Sexton both also praised Robbie Henshaw after the Leinster centre won his 50th cap for Ireland.

“He was top-class, top-drawer today,” said Farrell.

“Some players put pressure on themselves when they reach milestones and the other players just grab the occasion in their own hands and embrace the pressure and take the game to the opposition and from minute one, that was an outstanding performance from Robbie for the first 40 minutes, so well done to the three of them.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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