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Fullback O'Halloran eager for second Ireland cap after brief cameo debut

The 25-year-old didn’t have a chance to impact on the second Test.

Rory Keane reports from Port Elizabeth

HAVING EARNED HIS first Test cap in the dying minutes of a frantic clash against the Springboks at Ellis Park, it’s safe to say a lot of Irish players have had easier debuts than Tiernan O’Halloran.

The Connacht fullback entered the fray in the 75th minute after Jared Payne had pulled up with cramp as Damian de Allende finally broke the Irish resolve with his late, match-winning try.

Ireland’s Tiernan O’Halloran and Rhys Ruddock at the end of the match O'Halloran made his debut late on last weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It proved a chaotic introduction to international rugby for the 25-year-old, who may very well earn his first Test start in this Saturday’s series decider at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

“It was tough enough,” said O’Halloran. “With 25 minutes to go we were up 19-3 and maybe at that stage you were thinking ‘I might get on here’. Then the way it started going, they got back into and we got another try and the thought comes in, ‘okay, now we’re going to go’.

“You’re up and down thinking ‘will I come on?’ That’s the way rugby is and I’ve been on the bench plenty of times before so you know how it works. It’s all about the ebb and flow of the games, ready to go and never called upon.

“So it was just that sort of game. When they got those tries I knew it was going to come down to a couple of minutes at the end and so I was just ready to go before they got the last try anyway. Then when the last try went in I was thinking it’s going to be a different type of game now if we’re going to win we need to score, so I was ready to have a go.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get too much ball but that’s the way it is. I was delighted to get on the pitch and get a cap and hopefully if I’m involved we’ll work from there.”

Despite a stellar season for Pat Lam’s side, O’Halloran was originally omitted from Joe Schmidt’s squad for this tour, along with fellow wide men Matt Healy and Niyi Adeolokun.

Schmidt informed O’Halloran and Healy that they would be on standby with the pair going on to rip Leinster to shreds in the Pro12 final at Murrayfield as Leinster struggled to cope with the pace and invention of their Irish counterparts.

“The week before the final in Connacht he [Joe] rang me and a couple of other lads to let us know his reasons for going with the squad that he did and also to say we are on stand-by.

Tiernan O’Halloran O'Halloran in Port Elizabeth. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He said it’s up to us whether we want to book holidays, but be ready to change plans, which I was.

“I was ready to bring my boots on holidays and would have had it all ready. It didn’t make much of a difference, but I got the call then to come into camp in Dublin.”

Did his performance in the Pro12 final, where he smoked Rob Kearney for Connacht’s opening try, do anything to persuade Ireland’s head coach to reconsider this squad selection?

“I had been asked a couple of times in the weeks previous about my Irish chances, but I was focusing on what I could do,” the Clifden man replied.

“I was disappointed at missing out on the squad, yes, but it was such a massive opportunity for our province at Connacht that I didn’t want to distract myself, I wanted to keep going hard.

“It was the same with Matt as well, he was in the same boat and he got the call saying he was on stand-by so we kept doing what we were doing and thankfully it worked for us in the final and we got the win.”

Slowly but surely O’Halloran is adapting to life in the Schmidt system. The work-rate and attention to detail required of this current Ireland squad has been well-documented at this stage. It’s a demanding environment but is one that he is relishing.

“Apart from all the detail that you learn coming in, it’s that intensity in everything you do.

Tiernan O’Halloran O'Halloran could start at fullback this weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Not just on the pitch, but in meetings you have to really, really concentrate on everything that’s going on because there is a lot of information. But I suppose the training sessions have been at such a high level of intensity that sometimes at your province it’s not at that level either.

“Every skill, every pass, has to be right on the money and I suppose the weekend; being on pitchside at the bench, seeing some of the hits coming in and the intensity the game is being played at… obviously, I was only in it for three minutes but those three minutes you’re still blowing a bit.

“You can feel that it’s that step further than provincial level. So, I suppose that’s the biggest difference I’ve felt so far.”

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