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Dublin: 0°C Thursday 3 December 2020

'Swing Low really got rid of the nerves' - Ireland's debutants make impact

Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane were proud after making their Test bows.

ULTAN DILLANE LOPED into the mixed zone in his penguin suit and dickie bow on Saturday evening with a smile plastered across his face.

The Connacht lock had certainly earned the right to feel pride with his 15-minute cameo off the bench in Ireland’s 21-10 defeat against England in Twickenham. All set for his first post-match function in Test rugby, Dillane was positively buzzing after his debut.

Ultan Dillane tackled by Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole Dillane bursts through Cole and Hartley. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Josh van der Flier looked a little more fatigued following an 80-minute shift on his first cap, though the feelings were much the same for the 22-year-old Leinster openside. Stuart McCloskey, the third debutant in London, wasn’t put in front of the media, but he too showed the promise that led to Joe Schmidt starting him in the 12 shirt.

Van der Flier and McCloskey had a little moment just before kick-off in Twickenham, a quick high-five and a smile when they looked around at the 82,000-capacity stadium.

“We just said to each other, ‘enjoy it, just try and take in the atmosphere,’” said van der Flier after Ireland’s loss. “Playing in Twickenham is unbelievable. We had just been focused on enjoying it and it helps that we were in the same boat.”

While McCloskey and van der Flier lost themselves in the game within moments of the kick-off, Dillane had to bide his time until late in the second half, when he replaced Donnacha Ryan.

Sitting with the rest of the Ireland replacements, Dillane had grown more and more motivated by the minute.

“That really got rid of the nerves,” said the Connacht lock of hearing ‘Swing Low’ ringing out around Twickenham as England gained control. “I got a bit angry and got more in the zone! I was keen to come on at that point; I wanted to prove a point to a few people out there.”

That much Dillane most certainly did, manufacturing a clear linebreak and linking up with van der Flier to almost bring Ireland right back into the game.

“I think it was a bit of an adrenaline rush, I’d say,” was Dillane’s review of that dynamic bust through Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole. “Even looking back, I’m not even too sure how the linebreak came about. We’ll take it, I suppose.”

Josh van der Flier Van der Flier enjoyed his first taste of Test rugby. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Physically, Dillane looked more than comfortable in the exalted surroundings, making a handful of other strong carries and stealing one English lineout. That was true of van der Flier and McCloskey too, after they found their stride in the opening half.

The thing that links these three new Ireland players together is an athletic dynamism and robustness, and they did not suffer physically against England.

“It was a bit of a step up from where I was or what level I have played before,” said van der Flier, who believed he had touched the ball down when he was denied a debut try by the match officials late in the game.

“It seemed very stop-start, throughout the first half anyway, a lot of breaks for TMO and that kind of thing. It wasn’t actually too bad, I felt comfortable enough.”

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These are confident young men. While there were the obvious nerves, each of Schmidt’s young guns was more focused on making an impact on the game.

“We were all asked before the game what we wanted to bring into the game and I wanted a bit of physicality,” said Dillane of his goal off the bench. “I wanted to be an impact sub. I hope that came across, anyway.”

Van der Flier stated that his mindset since the beginning of this championship was that he would start games, even when the likes of Sean O’Brien were fit in the back row. The 22-year-old is calmly convinced of his ability, much like Dillane and McCloskey.

The expectation, rather than the hope, for all three will be starts in the closing two games against Italy and Scotland.

Stuart McCloskey warms up before the match McCloskey showed up well in the second half. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I thought Ultan was unbelievable,” said van der Flier. “Stuart played a really good game as well. I would like to think for them that they would be putting up their hands for the next couple of games.”

Dillane too feels he is ready now to step up into the starting XV:

“I’m glad I confirmed what the coaches thought so hopefully [I will start],” said the 22-year-old. “It would be amazing to get another run in a couple of weeks.”

And while the young men were understandably pleased at their individual achievements on Saturday, already they are more worried about the collective. They sound like Ireland players after just a single appearance each.

“As a team we feel we are really close,” said van der Flier, “it is just the small little things that are letting us down. We have two weeks prep before the next game. We will just try and work on those small things and try and get a bit of an edge.

“It is still very disappointing to give so much and not get the result. We know how close we are, so that is an encouragement. It is just the tiniest details in the game, a couple of lineouts here and there, penalties or whatever it was, very small margins that cost us the game.”

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Murray Kinsella

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