Belfast Telegraph

Revitalised Craig Gilroy setting his sights on a bonus

By Jonathan Bradley

When the hulking figure of Gerhard Van den Heever burst past Craig Gilroy untouched for a second time during the interpro loss to Munster a fortnight ago, the young Ulster winger knew it would be a performance that brought an increased scrutiny on his tackling.

Usually assured in that regard, but determined to remedy the issues from Thomond Park, Gilroy spent the next week working hard on the training paddock with defence coach Johnny Bell and the result was an outing against the Scarlets last Saturday that was notable for its physicality.

The 23-year-old, along with flanker Robbie Diack, topped the tackle charts for Neil Doak's side during the Champions Cup victory and the abrasive nature of the performance was epitomised in the second-half when he bulldozed what had been a threatening break from Gareth Owen into touch for an Ulster lineout.

Understandably, Gilroy was thrilled to silence any murmurs of discontent that emanated from that disappointing Friday night in Limerick.

"We were a bit disappointed after the Munster game," said the Ireland international.

"It was there to be won and we kind of let ourselves down with discipline and sloppy tackles.

"It was criminal. Missed tackles really cost us, by myself included.

"So for me personally it was a big focus going into this week, trying to show a more physical side and trying to be really nailed on defensively.

"I did a lot of work with Johnny Bell over the last wee while and we were really happy as a team.

"I was happy personally as well to show what we can do on that front."

On the coup de grace delivered by his forcing of Owen over the sideline at the conclusion of an enthusiastic chase, he added: "The guys we have, whether the kick is from nine or 10, the guys in the backfield chasing works really well.

"We've got some really good aerial skills and we do say that a kick is only as good as its chase.

"It's moments like that in a game that can give you momentum."

Having lost their opening two encounters to Leicester and Toulon, the bonus-point win against the Welshmen revived Ulster's hopes of emerging from Pool 3 in the Champions Cup but, with the away leg of the double-header to come on Sunday, Gilroy acknowledges that there is still a great deal to be done.

"Obviously there's still a lot more work to do and we're not out of it yet.

"There was a sense of relief, and I think everyone was really satisfied.

"It was a full on 80 minutes right to the end to get the result that we needed.

"It was really good for us and Doakie, and it sort of put us back in the mix, obviously still with a lot work to do."

While a daunting trip to the south of France beckons next month, Ulster will need a big performance on Sunday not to render that contest a dead-rubber, a fact that Gilroy readily acknowledges.

With Wayne Pivac's men much more effective at the Parc y Scarlets than they are away from home, the former Dungannon man knows that nothing will come as easy as it did last week.

"We definitely don't think it's going to be a case of we had a good bonus point win on Saturday so we'll be able to over there and do the same," said the man who won the most recent of his six Ireland caps against Georgia last month.

"It'll definitely be a different kettle of fish over there at their home ground.

"They'll be out to get us. You could tell that they were pretty gutted and pretty annoyed to lose.

"In an ideal world you'd love to be able to get another bonus point win but who knows?

"We'll concentrate on going over and putting in another good performance and being as disciplined as we were last Saturday."

The one downside of the physical nature of last week's contest was another raft of injuries, with Wiehahn Herbst, Nick Williams and Franco van der Merwe all expected to be ruled out, but Gilroy is heartened by the return of his fellow academy graduate Luke Marshall, even if he may be pitched straight back into the starting line-up due to Stuart Olding's concussion.

"Someone's loss is always someone else's gain," said Gilroy.

"Lukey isn't a massive over-thinker of things, he just loves playing rugby, wants to get his hands on the ball as often as possible and for someone like him it'll just be a case of him coming in and getting involved again.

"There's no point wasting time and taking little snippets of games.

"Why not just get chucked into the deep end?"

For Gilroy and Ulster in Europe, it's very much time to sink or swim.

Belfast Telegraph

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