Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
# Young Guns
Dillane, VDF and McCloskey provide positives for Schmidt's Ireland in defeat
Ireland’s three new caps showed their ability at Twickenham.

Murray Kinsella reports from Twickenham

THIS IS ONLY the very beginning of the learning curve for Ireland’s three newest international players, but the early signs were promising.

Stuart McCloskey, Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane will certainly have garnered huge amounts of knowledge from their Twickenham experience.

Ultan Dillane tackled by Billy Vunipola James Crombie / INPHO Dillane breaks forward for Ireland. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The Connacht lock positively strode off the bench to replace the excellent Donnacha Ryan with 15 minutes remaining, soon producing a thrilling linebreak by simply running right through the attempted English tackle.

Such an explosive carry from the 22-year-old indicates Dillane’s rich athletic quality and Schmidt should certainly consider giving the former Tralee RFC man a start against either Italy or Scotland, or maybe even both.

There were a handful of other carries from Dillane aside from the linebreak, which featured a gorgeous link-up with openside van der Flier.

The fact that the Leinster man was on Dillane’s shoulder to take the pass and then deliver a sublime offload back to the replacement lock was typical van der Flier. His support play is always intelligent.

In truth, van der Flier took his time getting to grips with the physicality and pace of Test rugby. That much was absolutely to be expected from a 22-year-old flanker going up against an incredibly powerful England team in Twickenham.

There were flashes of van der Flier’s quality, including one sharp breakdown action early on where he reached a foot in and kicked the ball out the back of the English ruck to frustrate Jones’ men. He was denied a debut try by the TMO in the second half.

Van der Flier’s most effective actions were in defence and he made a total of 17 hungry tackles as he looked to stem the English tide. The openside has a lofty ceiling of potential and has some way to go to find it. He can be an excellent Test player.

McCloskey was surprisingly not used as a direct ball carrier too often in the first half, instead being asked to pass the ball as Ireland sought to find the wide channels with their attacking possession.

Stuart McCloskey Dan Sheridan / INPHO McCloskey was strong in the second half. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

He built his way into the game too and after the interval began to make a telling impact. He smashed through and over English tackles on two occasions early in the second half, adding in a gorgeous grubber down the right that Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip converted into a turnover penalty after scragging Mike Brown.

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There were shaky moments from McCloskey among those many positives, but instances like an aggressive choke tackle turnover stood out more.

Head coach Schmidt was pleased with his trio of new faces, acknowledging afterwards that each of them has improvements to make after promising starts to their Ireland careers.

“I thought Josh got better and better as the game went on,” said Schmidt. “I think he’s got a big engine, he made a couple of really telling tackles and he obviously carried the ball over the line. His ability to arrive and be positive was a real asset to us.

“Stu got into the game a little bit in the second half and showed the big, strong carrier he can be for us. I think there was a couple of times that he probably needed to take care of the ball a little bit better, he was a little bit loose.

“Ultan came on, pinched a lineout, made a linebreak and really put himself about. He’s a big strong kid and he’s still learning the game.”

Therein lies the key message, all three of Ireland’s new caps are still learning and Schmidt will need to show a degree of patience with them. Test players need to accumulate knowledge rapidly, but this trio has the intelligence to do so.

The championship is well and truly gone for Ireland of course, but the final two fixtures against Scotland and Italy provide further opportunities for McCloskey, Dillane and van der Flier to amass international experience.

Josh van der Flier with James Haskell Dan Sheridan / INPHO Van der Flier was denied a try by the TMO. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The Connacht lock must be considered now for a start in at least one of those fixtures, while van der Flier and McCloskey continuing in their positions seems sensible too.

The expectation is that all three will improve after this experience in Twickenham, difficult as it was in a collective sense.

23-year-old McCloskey and 22-year-old pair van der Flier and Dillane have all the physical gifts they need to establish themselves in international rugby, now they just need further opportunities.

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