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'It hurts when he tackles': No fear over Dillane's physicality ahead of likely Twickenham debut

Connacht’s bruising lock has been 24th man so far in this tournament, but injury means he is next in line for the number 19 shirt next time out.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS thrown selection surprises, curve balls and jumped men up the queue before. But all signs this week point to the rise of Ultan Dillane reaching the international stage on Saturday.

Ultan Dillane Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Connacht lock began the season with the aim of making his way into an Emerging Ireland squad, yet a perfect storm of injuries and his own form earned him a call to the real thing last month.

The Paris-born Tralee man was 24th man in both of Ireland’s Six Nations outings so far, and after Mike McCarthy’s season was sadly ended by concussion Dillane is in line for his opportunity in a matchday 23 – likely as back-up for Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan.

“I think it would be fantastic for Ultan,” says Ireland under 20 coach and Connacht academy manager Nigel Carolan.

“Above everyone who I’ve worked with, he deserves it. He’s worked really, really hard.”

Ultan Dillane Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He has played 21 times for Connacht now, but much of the hard work that has led Dillane to the Test arena has been done off the field. Last season he endured a torrid time with injury, starting the season with a broken leg and ending it with surgery to on his AC joint.

“He hasn’t had the easiest journey with his background, but here’s a guy who’s developed resilience and perseverance through his experiences with Connacht. He’s been injured on and off for a couple of years which inhibited his physical development.

Ultan Dillane Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Once he got on top of those, he was able to work on his physical development and that’s the main weapon that he had.

“He’s extremely physical. He’s a guy who you would prefer is on your team than on the opposition because it hurts when he tackles and it hurts when he carries the ball.”

Carolan was speaking with one eye on his Ireland under 20 squad who, like the senior men, head to England this weekend hoping for their first win of the Championship. Second row Peter Claffey has also had the benefit of watching Dillane progress at close quarters in Galway.

“Ultan’s a good friend of mine from the academy. He’s such a down to earth guy, but he’s been so dedicated for the last few years. I was talking to Nigel about him this morning about how he’s probably going to be on the bench against England this weekend, only two years ago he was struggling weight wise and physicality wise. But he’s pushed on so much.

“I suppose it is nerve-wracking and scary when you see the lock position is pretty thin in the seniors, but it’s just another challenge to push onto now.”

Ultan Dillane Source: James Crombie/INPHO

For a squad on the back of two defeats, Carolan can trace an important lesson from Dillane’s sudden surge to prominence: under 20s is by no means the be all and end all, merely a stepping stone to better things. Just ask the men who didn’t make the grade.

“(Dillane) was never selected on the Irish U20s in his year,” Carolan points out.

“It should give a lot of hope to guys that are in this squad that, with the right attitude and right work ethic, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.

“These guys are on a journey and nothing is going to hold them back. U20s is only a part of that journey. Whether you make it and you get selected or don’t get selected, as long as you’re ambitious and you work hard, you can achieve whatever you want.

“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t aim higher, especially for professional teams. As long as this adds value and gives them good lessons to take with into the professional game, I think it’s going add value to them.”

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Sean Farrell

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