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'I grew up watching Drico, D’Arcy' - Munster's Arnold on being in Ireland camp

The Exiles product has been heavily influenced by Felix Jones’ coaching at Munster.

WITH CHRIS FARRELL’S season over due to ACL damage and Jaco Taute still attempting to make a comeback from a knee injury of his own, Sammy Arnold’s importance to Munster has just moved up another gear.

The 21-year-old has been excellent in his seven Guinness Pro14 and two Champions Cup starts for the province this season, and is now favourite to wear the 13 jersey when Toulon come to town for an exciting European quarter-final on 31 March.

Sam Arnold celebrates after the game 17/12/2017 Arnold has impressed for Munster this season. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While it will be another big challenge in the young centre’s burgeoning career, his confidence has been lifted by recent involvements with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.

After travelling to Spain with the national team for their pre-Six Nations training camp and spending the week of the France clash with them, Arnold was back in again for their two-day camp at the start of this week.

Schmidt clearly likes what he sees in the explosive and mature Munster midfielder and Arnold feels he has fast-tracked his development by being involved with Ireland at this early stage.

“I think just being in that environment, it takes a while to learn the plays, learn the shape, learn the way that Joe wants us to play,” says Arnold.

“It’s a specific way that he wants us to play, just familiarising myself with that environment. I’m very grateful to Joe for letting me come in and I’m just picking up those little bits of information when I can, and applying them to the game.

“I think for Joe to ring me up and tell me he wanted me to come in, it does give you that kinda lift that you might not be too far away and it stays in the back of your head that there might be a sniff sometime in the future if you keep working hard.”

Arnold has had bad luck with injuries in recent years, even before his decision to leave Ulster and seek a fresh start with Munster in the summer of 2016. Cruelly, he was injured just weeks after moving south and then suffered another knee injury in January 2017.

Sam Arnold Arnold makes a pass under the watchful eye of Schmidt. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It meant Arnold only played once for Munster at senior level last season, but he has avoided injuries during the current campaign and feels that his decision-making and handling are benefiting from the run of games.

He admits that his red card against Ulster on New Year’s Day, and a subsequent three-week ban, was “a momentum staller” but he looked at the positives of being able to improve his conditioning and remedy a couple of minor injury niggles during that time out.

Arnold rapidly found his feet with Munster again upon his return and stresses the influence that attack coach Felix Jones has had on his development.

“He has been absolutely incredible,” says Arnold. “There has not been one training session where Jonesey has not stayed out with me, called me aside and I have asked him to do a bit of kicking, a bit of passing, a bit video analysis.

“He is always ready to go the extra mile, and he has been superb in helping the young backs come through in terms of Alex Wootton, Dan Goggin, Darren Sweetnam. He is absolutely awesome and I think he takes pride in seeing his young backs trying to push on.

“He is an awesome guy to work with, an incredible coach who will always go the extra mile for you.”

There has been a change of bosses to negotiate at Munster this season with Johann van Graan replacing Rassie Erasmus, but Arnold says the likes of Jones made that easier to handle.

Sam Arnold tackled by James Malcolm Arnold has enjoyed working with Felix Jones. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“They kept the core of the coaching staff like Jerry [Flannery], George [Murray] and Jonesey, and Johann did not come in and flip the table. He kept a lot of things very simple. He has made quite a gradual change.

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“Obviously, we hit a bit of a stall around New Year’s Day against Ulster and we lost to Leinster the week before but all in all we are pretty happy with where we are sitting at the minute. We can always get better, we will always aspire to be better.”

The recent exposure to Ireland’s methods and the level of detail Schmidt demands has been another part of the learning curve for Arnold.

He says Schmidt has been helpful with his coaching of running lines, breakdown work, passing, tackle technique and all of the other basic skills.

“The main thing that I felt was the decision-making under fatigue, that’s where I really felt the step up to training at international level,” explains Arnold. “Joe and Andy [Farrell] would speak to me every time I’m in camp and tell me what to work on, and if I’m not doing something good, give me a clip round the ear and tell me to get better at it!

“I’m sure Joe has aspirations for where he wants Ireland to go and for that happen all the players have to buy into it and it has to be a constant strive to get better. Excellent isn’t good enough, it has to go to the next level, it has to be almost as perfect as it can be.”

The taste of the international set-up naturally has Arnold hungry for some real action and the summer tour to Australia would appear to be an ideal opportunity for Schmidt to blood him on the pitch.

While Arnold says it’s no secret he wants to play for Ireland at the top level, long-term goal-setting has been damaging to him in the past and he tends to “break it down into mini-cycles, one week at a time” now.

Arnold is a product of the IRFU’s Exiles system, having first been involved as a 16-year-old in his native England.

Sam Arnold Arnold is a product of the Exiles system. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He played for Ireland U18 Clubs in 2013 and starred for the Ireland U20s in 2015, even while still a year young for that level. Arnold’s second season with the U20s was ruined by injury but he had already been lured over to Ireland and into Ulster’s academy.

His mother is from Wexford, while his grandfather hails from Cork, and playing for Ireland has been an ambition since Mark Blair and Wayne Mitchell of the Exiles reached out to him.

“I have obviously been split between the two when I was younger,” says Arnold. “I would spend a lot of summers at my granny and granddad’s. My mum would always have been cheering for Ireland, my stepdad would have been cheering for England.

“I grew up watching Drico, D’Arcy, them guys, and ever since we did the Irish [Exiles] stuff at 16, I haven’t wanted to play for any other country.

“I might not have the Irish accent but I feel more Irish than a lot of people. I would give absolutely everything if I did get the opportunity to wear a jersey and if I did I would be incredibly grateful.”

His favourite O’Driscoll or D’Arcy moment?

“The flickover where Drico flicked it over the head of someone and then caught it. I tried it a few times and I hit someone on the head with it!”

Arnold is proving to himself that practice makes perfect and if his upward trajectory continues, it won’t be long before he is attempting his own bits of magic at senior level for Ireland.

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