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'I don't want to sit back and be happy with being third choice': Casey ready for more Test rugby

The 21-year-old scrum-half was made to wait over 140 minutes as a replacement before winning his first cap.

Image: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

WHEN YOU’RE NAMED on the bench, there can be no guarantee that there will be a Test cap to celebrate come full-time. So Craig Casey kept the head down, working diligently as ever and politely deferring all the messages of luck and congratulations flooding his way.

Just as well, because France’s visit to the Aviva Stadium a fortnight ago came and went without him being called to the field. It was only today that he was able to enjoy the career landmark.

“That was a bit awkward,” he says of the flood of well-wishing two weeks ago. Now though, after an assured cameo in the 10-48 win over Italy in Rome, he is intent on building towards the next steps.

Jonathan Sexton’s choice to publicly compare Casey’s professional attitude to that of Jonny Wilkinson will ensure the 21-year-old scrum-half won’t be flying under anyone’s radar for the rest of the Six Nations.

“He said this to me a few weeks ago. I think it’s to do with obsessiveness with rugby,” laughs Casey. “Being compared to Jonny Wilkinson, I’ll definitely take that.”

Casey is building a nice habit of grabbing opportunities that float anywhere near him. He was a driving force behind an Ireland U20 Grand Slam, he has quickly made himself a part of the senior Munster setup and now he has leapt a host of experienced scrum-halves to put himself in a position to challenge Conor Murray for Ireland’s number 9 shirt.

“Of course I want to play games for Ireland, that’s the goal. I don’t want to sit back and be happy with being third choice. I want to push on now, but when you’ve got players of Mur and Jamo’s calibre  it’s tough to break in, but I’m not going to sit back and be happy I want to push on.”

The achievement was still sinking in for Casey when he leaned into a laptop for the virtual post-match press duty. An international cap is a goal he set for himself when lockdown struck the country last year. Having been left as an unused sub against France, he wasn’t going to consider the task complete until it was official.

“I came close a few weeks ago against France, but today’s all the sweeter for it.

“I don’t think there was a moment… maybe today after the 60th minute when we scored a try and I thought ‘yes, I’m going to make my international debut.’ There was no other moment.”

Alan Quinlan remarked in commentary that he remembers holding the new international when Casey was a baby being passed around the Shannon clubhouse. The 21-year-old jokes that he can’t remember that. He likely can’t remember when he first dreamed about playing for Ireland either, but it’s a reality now too.

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Sean Farrell

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