Tommy Dickson/INPHO Ward in training in Cork.
carlow rising

Adaptable Ward another welcome tank out of Tullow

The Ireland U20 prop is willing to switch to either side of the scrum.

CHARLIE WARD DOESN’T quite chalk his own path in rugby back to the inspiration of Sean O’Brien, but he certainly felt the numbers swell around him at Tullow RFC as the club’s most famous son became invaluable to Leinster, Ireland and then the Lions.

Ward isn’t from rugby stock, he jokes that his parents sent him to minis because he was ‘just a big five-year-old’, but 15 years on, he is braced to take on one of the biggest age grade sides around when unbeaten Ireland and England lock horns in Friday’s U20 Six Nations showdown in Northampton.

“We all know each other, it’s not the biggest town,” jokes Ward. And the community of the club is tighter still.

“Once (O’Brien made his mark on higher levels) the numbers just started flooding in. Now we’re filling teams out in our league in 13, 14, 15s… which wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.”

Of course, rugby runs deeper in Tullow than just the tracks left by the Tank, Ward still wears the disappointment of a Towns Cup final defeat to Enniscorthy. A year earlier he could witness the celebrations first-hand as the margins went their way.

“The year before (Tullow) beat Skerries, I was at that and it’s unbelievable to see lads in the club of 70 years of age crying their eyes out after winning the Towns Cup. Everyone was crying after it. It was such a big occasion for us all.”

Along the way, Ward has put his physique to use on football and hurling fields while also building a reputation as a hard-working, hard-carrying prop.

He now shows his wares further along the pathway and wears the red and blue of Clontarf in AIL Division 1A. His experience there has helped him build a flexibility into his front row play. He came through to last year’s U20 setup as a loosehead prop and started this year’s Six Nations in the number 1 shirt against Scotland, but at this level he is content to switch over to tighthead whenever called upon.

“If you’re sub in the AIL you’ve to be ready to come on either side,” he says, but he feels bringing that flexibility to the professional ranks would be an overstretch.

“I wouldn’t be big enough to be a professional tighthead. I’m never going to be 118kg tighthead and able to move.

charlie-ward Dan Sheridan / INPHO Ward in Abbottstown this week. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It is tough (to switch) it’s hard to get your bearings right and angles and your foot position, but because I’ve been doing it more now you kind of get used to it. So it’s not too bad.”

Last week’s training session against Andy Farrell’s senior squad didn’t offer Ward much scope for scrummaging lessons from Tadhg Furlong. There is a touch of disappointment in the Tullow man’s voice as he describes the high-pace, low-impact session.

“We didn’t scrum properly against them, just did some tension holds. Nothing big time.”

“It was good to see what the highest standard of rugby actually is. To see, we’re obviously a bit off that pace but in some areas we were pretty good and we were able to keep with them.

“They gave us a lot of respect, we obviously respected them because they’re professional rugby players.

“We were well behaved on both sides of the ball. We trained really well against them, it was a great experience for us all and a great honour.”

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