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'I hope that his time is coming' - Carolan backs Dillane's work ethic

Ireland U20s head coach Nigel Carolan oversaw a big win in England last time out.

NIGEL CAROLAN HAS overseen the development of many an excellent young player in his roles as Connacht academy manager and Ireland U20s head coach.

Second row Ultan Dillane is the latest in an increasingly long line of players who have come through Connacht’s academy system ready for senior rugby. Indeed, the 22-year-old looked entirely comfortable on his Ireland debut off the bench against England in Twickenham just over a fortnight ago.

Ultan Dillane tackled by Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole Dillane makes a break against England. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Such was the impact Dillane made against an admittedly tiring English defence that many have called for the Paris native to start this weekend against Italy.

Carolan, who lured Dillane to Connacht after the lock had come through the Munster system with Tralee RFC, was not surprised by the impression he made when unleashed by Joe Schmidt.

However, Carolan points out the mature Dillane knows better than anyone that he still has huge amounts to learn as a senior player.

“I think his cameo the last day in the 15 minutes went particularly well for him,” said Carolan yesterday as he took a brief break from the Ireland U20s’ preparations for Friday night’s Six Nations clash with Italy in Donnybrook [KO 7.35pm].

It didn’t look like it was his first cap. It looked like a guy who had played 30 or 40 caps, he looked that comfortable.

“I hope that his time is coming and that he can reproduce, because I think his stock certainly went up on the back of his 15 minutes the last day but again, he’s very humble and he knows that he’s got a lot to do. If he wasn’t starting [against Italy], I don’t think he’ll be too disappointed.”

Carolan’s experience of working with Dillane, who still only has 21 Connacht appearances under his belt, suggests that the lock is a quick learner with a strong work ethic.

“I think he has to be, particularly playing in that environment. But he’s starting to mature as a player. I think his detail and his preparation off the field, he knows that that’s vital and they’re the areas that he’s working hard on.”

Nigel Carolan Carolan is preparing for Friday's clash with Italy. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Dillane is following in the recent footsteps of Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion in his swift progression from the Connacht academy into the Ireland set-up.

Carolan continues to perform fine work in that role overseeing the development of Connacht’s young players, as Pat Lam benefits from the production line. Right now, however, Carolan’s focus is centred on the U20 Six Nations.

Ireland are coming off the back of a remarkable comeback win against England in Newcastle two weekends ago, having lost to Wales and France in the opening rounds.

Carolan has had to contend with the loss of two first-choice players during the England game, centre Jimmy O’Brien sustaining a stress fracture in his leg and fullback Jack Power pulling his hamstring.

A five to six week recovery timeframe means Power will also undergo surgery on a shoulder issue he has been carrying. The hope is that the former Blackrock College flyer will be available for this summer’s World Rugby U20 Championship.

More positively, Ulster back Jacob Stockdale is available after missing the opening rounds of the Six Nations while he made a big impression under Les Kiss with the northern province’s senior set-up.

The win over England has added belief to Carolan’s playing group, who managed to turn around a 20-6 deficit in the second half to win 26-20 at Kingston Park. That comeback meant a first Ireland win over England at U20 level in six years.

The manner of the victory, with Ireland remaining steadfast in their belief that retaining possession would pressure England, was satisfying for Ireland.

The Ireland team celebrate winning Ireland won against the English last time out. Source: Alex Dodd/INPHO

“I think there’s a belief in what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to play,” said Carolan, “it paid off. It was very simple. To take England through phases we had to be physical, we had to be well-organised.

“On 60 minutes I think we were starting to get stronger and England started to throw the towel in when they weren’t getting return in the second half.”

Ireland’s defeats to Wales and France had seen them favour the ball-in-hand approach that has become a signature of sorts under Carolan, though those fixtures saw handling errors punished.

The Connacht man believes the focus on retaining possession suits this group of skillful players, led by the excellent captain and lock James Ryan.

It’s not part of the job brief,” says Carolan of Ireland’s attack. “We can either keep the ball in hand or you can go to the air. We have both, we like to think we’ve got both in the bag if we need to take them out. It’s something that’s been working for us.

“Collectively, they’re a good group and there’s x-factor in there. If we can just open up some doors, we can create opportunities. We felt that looking at England’s profile, that was going to work for us, just keeping the ball and keeping the pressure on there.”

‘Going through the phases’ is a common mantra in Irish rugby at present, but one often wonders whether the intent focus on retaining possession can, in turn, blunt the attacking side’s concentration on actually making linebreaks.

Greg Jones Greg Jones makes a carry against England. Source: Alex Dodd/INPHO

If ‘taking them through phases’ is the goal, does the mindset of breaking through wear away? Carolan underlines that his Ireland U20s side remain steadfast in their belief that they can cut teams apart.

“We’re trying to score on every phase, that’s our intention.” said Carolan. “Even the stuff we were working on today in training, on every phase it’s our intention to score. I felt every time against England that we went through a phase we made yardage.

“It just meant that the next group had to be organised. If we didn’t score, we were trying to score on the next one.”

Tickets for the Ireland U20s’ meeting with Italy at Donnybrook on Friday night [KO 7.35pm] are available here.

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Murray Kinsella

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