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'Rugby nerd' Casey feels Ireland's attack is moving in the right direction

The scrum-half is hoping to get more minutes on the pitch against the USA this weekend.

Munster and Ireland scrum-half Craig Casey.
Munster and Ireland scrum-half Craig Casey.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

CRAIG CASEY WOULD be the first to admit that last weekend did not go as he had hoped. The Munster scrum-half, who made his Ireland debut in February, would have loved to get some meaningful minutes under his belt against Japan on Saturday, but ended up seeing only four minutes of action as injury issues limited Andy Farrell’s options. 

“I understood the situation,” Casey says. “Chris (Farrell) went down pretty early with a head knock, and you never want to see that. And then Billy Burns came into the team and Joey Carbery moved to centre so that was a bit weird. And then with Jordan Larmour off early with his injury, it’s just about the team at that stage. We wouldn’t have wanted to see a forward on the wing or playing with 14 men with 10 minutes to go against a Japan side.

“Obviously you want more minutes, every player wants to play as much as they can. For the team’s sake, it’s the only thing that could have happened. Luckily we got the win and it paid off. So no complaints there, really.”

The 22-year-old has learned to be patient during international windows, but should get the opportunity to make a more meaningful contribution against the USA this Saturday. And while getting on the pitch is always the end goal, he says it isn’t the only measure of what makes a successful international camp.

“Being in international camp, everyone judges it thinking it’s the minutes on the field and that that’s where you learn,” he says, “but you are learning every day just being around top quality players and top quality management. 

You’re learning off four or five brilliant staff every day on the training field. Then the players around you, like I’ve learned a lot off Jamo (Jamison Gibson-Park) and Bladey (Caolin Blade) as well, so it’s been great to come in and learn at the end of the season, but obviously you want minutes on the field as well and hopefully I get that on Saturday and show my hand within a team performance and we get a good win, and hopefully I play well.”

Casey is a keen student of rugby, and uses the game’s leading scrum-halves as his reference points on the week of a big game.

“There’s three (scrum-halves) that I study quite a lot. Aaron Smith obviously is someone that I base my game off, while also bringing stuff that I have into it as well. Dupont is ripping up world rugby at the minute so I’ve studied him quite a lot, and then there’s Faf de Klerk. 

“I’m a bit of a rugby nerd, so I’ve a few playlists on them, watching their best clips, and then I’d watch them in the week of a game just to get the best practice into my head and get those things flowing in my head as well.”

Casey enjoyed a hugely successful season with Munster, featuring 19 times in total, and his desire to play with pace and inject some tempo into the game seems to sit nicely with what the Ireland coaches say they are looking for.

“They want all of our scrum-halves to be playing fast so that we can play to the space. I think that’s about it really,” he explains.

Obviously we’re all brought into camp for specific reasons, we all have our points of difference, but I think it’s about being yourself. Like, the coaches are always on to us about just being ourselves, whether that is on the field or off the field, so obviously being myself, I like to play quick, I like to string out passes, so I think that fits in well with what the coaches want here as well.

“They all want the nines to be playing quick, get our forwards on top of other teams and play to the space early. So hopefully I can do that.”

At times, Ireland’s attacking game has come in for some heavy criticism over the past 12 months, but Casey sees plenty of reasons to be positive, pointing to the team’s high-scoring return against Japan last weekend, who themselves are masters of playing a fast attacking game, with a focus on encouraging creativity.

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“I think we’re getting there to be honest. We’re starting to play an attractive style. Under Andy Farrell, he’s all about playing to the space early, whether that’s kicking, passing or running. So it’s up to us to take the opportunities that are given. Like, we scored five tries at the weekend and it could easily have been eight.

“So we have to take the opportunities we are given. But five tries against a tough Japan side is quite good. You can see where we’re going with the rugby that we’re playing to be honest.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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