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Dublin: 12°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Ulster's Gilroy out to hit top stride as he hails Payne's defensive influence

The 29-year-old has been working hard on his reads out on the edge of the defence.

IT’S BEEN THREE-and-a-half years now since Craig Gilroy’s last Ireland cap against Italy in Rome, where he scored a hat-trick in a big Six Nations win for Joe Schmidt’s side.

It hasn’t been plain sailing for the wing since, with injuries, a suspension, and a fall down the pecking order at Ulster along the way.

There has never been any doubting Gilroy’s pace and finishing ability. He is Ulster’s top try-scorer of all time and remains a potent weapon out wide in attack.

craig-gilroy Gilroy was in sharp form last weekend for Ulster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

One of the things Schmidt felt needed work was the Ulster flyer’s defence and Gilroy has been working hard on that side of his game in recent years. His former team-mate, Jared Payne, has been running the Ulster defence since 2018 and Gilroy has benefitted from their working relationship.

While far tougher tests lie ahead, 29-year-old Gilroy started the new 2020/21 season well in a defensive sense against Benetton last weekend, making some strong reads and tackles on the right edge of the Ulster defence.

This followed on from a strong showing for Ulster A against Leinster in which Gilroy scored an intercept try.

“Being a winger, it’s probably one of the toughest places to defend because you’re in so much space and you have decisions to make,” says Gilroy.

“I’m lucky Jared is the defence coach here. I played loads of times with Jared for Ulster and I played with him for Ireland as well. He was a world-class defender and he has taken that into his role and he has passed on a lot to me and the other guys and he’s always working with us.

“I find it’s really helpful just doing wee drills with him to help improve that area of my game. On Friday, I wanted to show on the pitch what I have been doing in the background.” 

Gilroy managed to do as much, although he didn’t get many opportunities to show his attacking ability.

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craig-gilroy-scores-a-try Gilroy scored for Ulster A against Leinster at the RDS. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

That said, there were a couple of clever kicks ahead under pressure on his right wing, while Gilroy gathered in a Stewart Moore kick pass at one point, and then crucially won back John Cooney’s box-kick to spark the flowing attack that led to Moore’s first-half try.

“Going after the ball in the air is a huge positive for us and something we have got a lot of reward out of,” says Gilroy. “We got so much out of it last season that we want to take it into this season.

“There are a lot of things that can come together to create chances like that, John Cooney’s box kick was on the money and it gave me a chance to get up and contest and we react and play of that, everyone has their role and part to play and that was a good example of it.”

Next up for Gilroy and Ulster is tomorrow’s visit to Swansea to take on the Ospreys, who enjoyed a win away to Edinburgh last time out.

With plenty of jostling for places in Dan McFarland’s back three when everyone’s fit, Gilroy is keen to keep taking whatever chances come his way.

“There’s a lot of competition and you really need to put your hand up to get into Dan’s team and he drives really high standards.

“I played for the A team two weeks ago [against Leinster] and had a good game for them and he rewarded me with the start against Treviso so I wanted to get all my prep done for that.

“It’s a clean start, it was the first game of the season and it was all positive.”

Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella break down Andy Farrell’s latest 35-man Ireland squad and welcome the news that Joe Schmidt is back in the game:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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