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'It feels great': Connacht's Dillane delighted to be back in green

The second row came off the bench at Murrayfield to win his first cap since November 2017.

IT HAS BEEN a long road back for Ultan Dillane but the Connacht second row was quick to make his mark off the bench against Scotland this afternoon, claiming a crucial lineout steal to ease the pressure on the Ireland line.

Dillane’s introduction for his provincial team-mate, Quinn Roux, with 13 minutes left on the clock at Murrayfield saw him win his 12th international cap, and his first since November 2017.

Ultan Dillane steals a line out from Jonny Gray Dillane steals a lineout from Jonny Gray. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Enjoying an excellent season with Connacht under head coach Andy Friend, Dillane produced a big moment at the death to snatch possession off Jonny Gray and Joe Schmidt was quick to reference his contribution in the post-match press conference.

The 25-year-old has always been a dynamic ball-carrier and excellent athlete around the park but has gone away and worked on the fundamental roles of a second row, nailing down key skills around the set-piece. 

Dillane was in the mix at the start of last season’s Six Nations but suffered a great personal loss when his mother, Ellen, passed away last February and his form was understandably affected.

“It was a great feeling being back out there,” the Tralee native said. “It wasn’t easy for us tonight but it was great to get a win at Murrayfield. I was involved two years ago and it definitely wasn’t the same feeling. We know how hard-fought wins are here so we’ll take that. 

“Personally, I’d like to say it’s a clean slate but it has taken a lot of work to get back into the squad. There’s a lot of competition, you just have to take the opportunities you get. It feels great to be back in the squad but trying to stay there is another thing.”

With Devin Toner ruled out of the championship and Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne both in a race to be fit to be involved in any of the remaining games, there is a great opportunity for Dillane to force his way into Schmidt’s plans.

Certainly, making his presence felt off the bench as he did this afternoon is a good place to start. 

Quinn Roux, Ultan Dillane and Bundee Aki The Connacht trio. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That’s the pressure that gets put on us, to fit in first,” he continues. “You have to fit in and work through the system and hopefully, that’s what we did tonight to help secure that win. 

“I don’t know if there’s much to talk through [the steal]. It was more just right place, right time I think. I had good support behind me, and luckily it came off for us. We needed it anyway because they were definitely sniffing out a few points.”

It was a good day, too, for Roux who was excellent in the Ireland lineout and ensured the loss of Toner wasn’t keenly felt, while Bundee Aki completed the Connacht trio in Schmidt’s side.

Dillane adds: “I’m delighted for Quinn, he’s my second row partner. It’s great to see such growth in a player and I can only aspire to get the same in terms of calling and all that.

“It’s fantastic to see him get the mileage and even last week, the impact he had against England physically, was fantastic. The only way he’s going is upwards.”

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Ryan Bailey

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