Belfast Telegraph

Craig Gilroy can't wait for Kingspan after Six Nations TV drama

By Michael Sadlier

Last Saturday it was just him and the dog as the dramatic finale for the Six Nations unfolded on his TV screen. He watched it all and, like so many others, found the tension reaching levels which became too much to bear.

It's often not a straightforward experience for players to watch games, particularly so if they had harboured aspirations of potentially being involved, but Craig Gilroy became increasingly drawn in to what was a day of pure sporting theatre.

"I felt that I nearly had a heart-attack several times," he laughs when recalling the final nerve-shredder of a game at Twickenham.

"I kept getting up to make things. I remember I made myself a cup of coffee, drank it and went to get another but I didn't know what I was doing.

"I think I was just trying to get away from the TV as I couldn't even watch it.

"It was just crazy. The Wales game was exciting, the Ireland game was tense enough but the England against France game was, some parts of it were ... well, who could have scripted that?"

It sums it all up rather neatly and is also a wholly appropriate observation for the way he likes to play the game.

Gilroy's try-scoring ability has never really been doubted, with his dancing feet bamboozling would-be tacklers.

Indeed, this was, once again, dazzlingly showcased in February's home win over the Scarlets when Gilroy pulled out all his tricks to leave a thicket of defenders clutching air on his way to scoring a wonder try from seemingly nothing.

He is in scintillating form at the moment with the winger, who can also play full-back, mining a rich vein of form with his eight tries in this PRO12 campaign - he has bagged 10 in total if European games are included - seeing him currently the league's top scorer. And Gilroy is back on the right wing tonight and hungry for more.

And with five touchdowns coming from the last four PRO12 games - a brace being bagged at both Treviso on his 100th Ulster appearance and in the most recent outing, the defeat at the Dragons - you could hardly have blamed Gilroy for wondering if he might have just got the chance to be involved in the Six Nations.

"I was almost staring at my phone hoping to get the call but it never came," the recently turned 24-year-old says with a smile.

He had been part of an enlarged squad at the start of the Championship and had played for the Wolfhounds when he suffered a concussion and was then cut from a trimmed down national set-up.

"I came back and I really didn't hear much which was disappointing," the six times capped international says, though admitting that Luke Fitzgerald's presence at Carton House was always likely to get the Leinster man the nod for involvement after Simon Zebo was left out for the Scotland clash.

"Look, the team was winning and as much as I would have liked to been there you can't blame Joe (Schmidt) for not making changes.

"I'd obviously love to go to the World Cup and I think I could offer a lot as I can play anywhere in the back three," Gilroy adds, but that is for further down the line.

"I've been playing good rugby for Ulster and that is all I can control, I can't pick the team but I can make an impact on the pitch."

Despite the 26-22 reverse at the Dragons - Ulster's first PRO12 defeat after four straight wins - Gilroy had, nevertheless, a good game while at full-back.

"It was a funny one because I enjoyed the game being at full-back," he recalls.

"We got all our plays and detail right, but we just lacked something and I think it was our attitude."

Even though their losing bonus point put Ulster in second spot - though only on points differential from Munster - there was no hiding place for the players when they returned from their week's break.

"Doaky certainly gave us a kick up the ass and everyone was disappointed as it was a game that was there for us. But it was our fault that we lost."

"We need to have a bit more passion and respect for the jersey," he added.

A repeat performance tonight would not only be unacceptable but also probably the ruination of Ulster's top four plans. And with Cardiff Blues seven places below, there can be no question that stretching Ulster's winning run at the Kingspan in the PRO12 to all nine games so far played has to be achieved.

"They have some seriously good players, but after the break we want to come out and blow them off the park," Gilroy maintains.

"We believe we can put in a big performance and get the points we need. This is a big game for us and it will hopefully set the tone for the end of the season."

He is confident that Ulster can go all the way and is also, rightly, feeling good about his own game.

"I'm really enjoying rugby at the minute and looking forward to the games, especially the home ones," he says.

"Playing on Friday nights with the way the crowd, the stadium and the buzz is, well, when you get your hands on the ball and hear the noise it's really good.

"And then finding the try line, yes, it is always good to dot down," says the player one score short of having accumulated 25 in the league.

At least tonight Gilroy gets back to doing something on the pitch again, thankful that he can leave last Saturday's watching brief firmly behind him.

Belfast Telegraph

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