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'It's no disrespect to Munster, but Connacht were definitely there for me'

Ireland lock Ultan Dillane says the All Blacks aren’t invincible.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

FOR ONE REASON or another, the sheer scale of the good news out of Connacht last week didn’t fully register.

There was delight from Connacht fans that Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane had agreed to stay with the province beyond next summer, but the fact that the westerners had retained two high-profile, explosive players of their nature didn’t quite get the air time it deserved.

Ultan Dillane Dillane in Chicago yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Times have changed. Other sides don’t just take Connacht’s best players anymore.

That messages wasn’t fully transmitted at the time, so when we catch up with Ultan Dillane in Chicago ahead of Ireland’s meeting with the All Blacks, we ask him about re-signing.

Dillane is now preparing for Saturday’s Test without any distractions back at home, although he doesn’t think the contract situation had stressed him out unduly.

“I don’t really think it was on my mind that much, but my housemates and some of my friends reckon it was!” says Dillane.

“But yeah, I’m delighted to sign on with Connacht. For me, personally, I wasn’t feeling that I was going to leave anyway.

It is nice for me and for my family to have that out of the way and definitely focus on that for the next few years, and hopefully building on what we’ve done with Connacht, and more silverware would be fantastic.”

Munster were in the frame for Dillane and given that he grew up in Kerry and played underage rugby for the southern province, the prospect of a return ‘home’ must have been tempting?

“No, to be honest I don’t think so because Connacht gave me all the opportunities I ever had and it’s no disrespect to Munster at all, but Connacht were definitely there for me.

“And through the relative success that I might have had the last few years, it would have been a shame to turn my back on them that quickly and go back, I don’t think it’s a good sign of character anyway.

“But it was never my intention and I’m definitely so happy that I’ve made an incredible group of friends and there are good coaches as well down there, so it wasn’t a tough decision.”

Connacht’s  Ultan Dillane Dillane has signed on for two more years with Connacht. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

As for the prospect of returning to Munster at the end of his new two-year deal with Pat Lam’s side, Dillane says he hasn’t even touched upon that thought yet.

“It’s down the line but that’s very far, and again it’s not something that I’d be thinking about at all, at all. No, because I’m really happy where I am and yeah, I’m really excited for what we’re doing and what we’ll hope to achieve again.”

On Dillane’s mind at the moment are the All Blacks.

The dynamic lock is in with a good shout of starting the Test at Soldier Field, his five Ireland caps so far having come from the bench.

Dillane is in positive form when we sit down at Trump Tower, where Ireland are based this week, joking that “we are not trying to help him out or anything!”

The analysis process has been and will be as in-depth as ever leading up to this New Zealand clash, but Dillane is confident that Ireland have picked out some areas to attack.

There is evident quality but they are only human at the end of the day,” says the Connacht man. “They do have weaknesses. We are looking to exploit them.

“They have 18 wins in a row and clearly they have been hyped up as favourites and all that. But there is a lot of pressure on them to maintain that streak. Us going in as underdogs, we see that as an opportunity to upset them. We hope to create a bit of history.”

Dillane is forceful in stating that this Ireland squad under Joe Schmidt have the mentality required to go toe-to-toe with the All Blacks.

“The belief has been there for quite a while. I don’t want to dwell on previous games but three years ago, we almost upset them at home. That is only a taste of what is to come.

Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier and Jamie Heaslip Dillane and Ireland team-mates take in the view from Trump Tower. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We don’t think about the games from long ago. We think about how the team is at the moment, not how things panned out in games from years ago. We don’t think they are invincible. They do have weaknesses. We will try and exploit those.”

Sitting on the couch at home watching that heartbreaking defeat to the All Blacks in 2013, Dillane says he never imagined that he would be involved in the next meeting with the Kiwis three years later.

And yet here he is, set to face the haka in three days’ time.

“I’ve never played against them so I wouldn’t know, but I don’t think there’ll be any bit of fear,” says the Corinthians clubman.

“Growing up, seeing them do the haka on TV was always a cool thing. But I think there’s going to be some rush, hopefully, standing opposite that and seeing them do it. Then it will definitely add to the excitement.”

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Murray Kinsella

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