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Dublin: 10°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Denis Buckley focuses on Connacht form after featuring in Ireland camp

The 28-year-old was superb as Connacht’s pack took Zebre apart in the scrum on Saturday.

THE FACT THAT Denis Buckley hasn’t played for Ireland yet is something that bemuses most Connacht supporters.

The handling ability, the mobility, the breakdown turnovers, the fitness, the scrum quality, the consistency of performance – Connacht fans will list these qualities and many more when stressing that Buckley should have senior international honours on his rugby CV.

Denis Buckley Buckley was destructive for Connacht against Zebre. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There is, of course, major competition at loosehead prop with Lions duo Cian Healy and Jack McGrath generally occupying jerseys number one and 16 for Ireland in recent seasons, while Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne has also been part of Joe Schmidt’s squads.

Buckley has been unlucky to miss out on many occasions but his involvement in the most recent Ireland camp last month was encouraging.

While it was a widely extended squad of around 50 players, Buckley’s return to the Ireland fold under Schmidt was a timely reminder that he is still in mind.

“A really good experience to get in there again,” said Buckley of being part of that camp. “It was a tough few days but really enjoyable. I really, really enjoyed it. It was great to get some confidence but you park that stuff and focus on your job here.

“That’s the main thing. I know that if I just keep getting picked here [at Connacht] and keep performing, keep performing to as high a level as I can, then maybe bigger stuff will come. I’ll focus on my job here for now.”

Being part of a Connacht scrum that dismantled Zebre’s pack during a bonus-point win for Andy Friend’s side on Saturday certainly won’t have done Buckley’s chances of involvement with Ireland in the future any harm.

The loosehead was superb at scrum time, with Finlay Bealham equally strong on the tighthead side, as Connacht’s scrum proved to be a major factor in their first Pro14 victory of the season.

Adeolokun Ultan Dillane and Denis Buckley with the Quilter Cup Buckley helped the Barbarians to beat England over the summer. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Having given up momentum to Glasgow at the set-piece a week before, Saturday’s win in the rain against Zebre was particularly satisfying for Buckley and co.

“We get a lot of pleasure when we scrummage like that,” said Buckley on Saturday evening. “We didn’t go that well last week – some calls went against us, some calls were probably right to go against us.

“It’s a testament to the group that we got together and we bounced back, we just worked on the basics, worked on our process all week.

“To come out and do that, not force it – there were times when we couldn’t get them, but we didn’t force it. We just stayed within the process that we’ve done all week, all pre-season, so to get some dominance at the end of that is really pleasing. ”

Indeed, Connacht’s response to their narrow defeat to Glasgow in round one left the entire dressing room at the Sportsground content.

The western province agonisingly saw a last-gasp penalty chance to grab victory against the Warriors bounce off the post, but Buckley says that didn’t mask the weakness they showed.

“Outside of the group, it was probably a bit more positive than it was inside in terms of people saying, ‘Oh, it was a really good performance, hard luck, ye just came short’ but we knew we should have won and that’s what was really frustrating in the inner group.

Denis Buckley The loosehead is a key man at Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Last week our forwards probably didn’t perform as well as we would have liked, especially at home, that’s pretty frustrating for us. So to go out and perform like we did today [Zebre] is really positive and on top of that it’s difficult conditions for both teams but we managed that really well.

“If you try to force things in that weather, before you know it, it’s a 50-50 game. We found a weapon in terms of our scrum, we used that well, we controlled the game, we didn’t try to force things.

“It was when they went down to 13 men that we really hammered them home, we weren’t forcing it up until then. Just a really professional, well-managed performance.”

Next up for Buckley and this Connacht pack is Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Friday night, with the Scottish club smarting after their last-minute defeat to Ulster in Belfast.

“They have got a really good pack and good scrum as well,” said Buckley.

“We know the type of rugby he [Cockerill] likes to play, with a big maul and big scrum. At least we know what to expect. It’s exciting as opposed to something to be worried about, a really good test for us.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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