Belfast Telegraph

Connacht coming to Kingspan fired up and full of confidence


Determined: Ultan Dillane is focused on Connacht success
Determined: Ultan Dillane is focused on Connacht success

By Ruaidhri O'Connor and Des Berry

Connacht second-row Ultan Dillane says he won't treat Saturday's Guinness PRO14 quarter-final clash with Ulster as a chance to impress Joe Schmidt.

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The Kerry native featured prominently during the Six Nations, but with huge competition for second-row spots he remains in a battle to make the plane to Japan.

Saturday's game sees him take on World Cup banker Iain Henderson head to head, while he also gets a chance to disrupt Ireland captain Rory Best's throw. But Dillane is putting the tournament to the back of his mind.

"It's weird, I don't think about that and I don't think many players would because there's no point in projecting yourself that far. It might not happen, you might get injured, anything could happen," Dillane said.

"It's about doing whatever you can for this team. Obviously that would be great, but at the moment it's just making the semis and potentially getting that trophy again. That would be the best thing."

Dillane's main focus is on performing in Belfast.

"We know there's a huge opportunity," he said. "We fully believe we can beat these guys again but we know the challenge it's going to take. We need to be really composed."

Meanwhile, Jack Carty has turned his hard work on the training ground into personal and collective gains this season.

The merit of his work for Connacht and around the fringes for Ireland has led to a nomination for the Zurich Players' Player of the Year award, alongside James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony and Tadhg Beirne.

"To get recognised by my fellow players is something that is a huge honour for me," he says.

"I don't think you can get voted by players in your own province. To get voted by the Leinster, Munster and Ulster players is something I'm proud of."

It is incredible the difference a new coach and a new season can make.

The replacement of Kieran Keane with Andy Friend as head coach has washed away any of the residual hurt and animosity at a lost season.

Last season, the main problem for Carty was that he couldn't quite hit the spot that makes all the difference to his confidence; the out-half's primary work-on was his goal-kicking.

"I think there's only a difference of maybe 5.5pc, which I suppose at the top level is massive," he says.

"It was at 72-73pc and I knew if I wanted to play international rugby it had to be 80pc-plus," he adds after lifting his strike rate to 81.6pc, until hitting four of seven in his last game.

"I've probably got my goal-kicking to a place where I'm confident with it.

"We have a forward pack (in Connacht) that has been dominant 90pc of the time, especially at the scrum.

"When you're winning penalties in kickable zones on the pitch, first, if you get it, it is rewarding them for their hard work. If you miss a kick that you should get, you feel like you are letting those lads down. I'm just happy that, more times than not, I've been able to reward them."

There is a solid case to be made that Carty has moved to seriously challenge Joey Carbery as Jonathan Sexton's back-up man for Ireland and the three-horse race between Carty, Carbery and Ross Byrne for Japan is heating up. "There's going to be one of us or two of us disappointed come September," says Carty.

Connacht are back in the PRO14 play-offs against Ulster in Belfast on Saturday and Carty will hope he can serve up another reminder of his progress to Schmidt.

Belfast Telegraph


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