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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Buckley Fired Up For Russian Challenge

Buckley Fired Up For Russian Challenge

June 12, 2010. New Plymouth, New Zealand. Tony Buckley’s most recent full game for Ireland and arguably his best ever performance in a green jersey. Now the giant prop wants to recapture that rampaging form and put pressure on first choice tighthead, Mike Ross.

Tony Buckley is set to make his first Rugby World Cup start against Russia on Sunday and you sense that he is a man on the mission.

The broad smile and affable nature bely a steely determination to prove himself at the highest level of the game. Ireland cap number 25 will come this weekend in Rotorua, but he has made only eight previous starts.

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Buckley knows he has the capability to scrum well on the international stage and be a destructive force in the loose – witness his carries and defensive display against the All Blacks in the summer tour match last year.

It is all about putting that full game together and consistently producing the goods under the guidance of forwards coach Gert Smal and consultant scrum coach Greg Feek.

“(My form) has been improving over the last few months. I just need a run of games and (to stay) injury free. Trying to get games at tighthead is what I want,” he said.

“Last year up to the Munster-Toulon game at Thomond Park I was feeling really good, scoring two tries. I was looking forward to boxing on from there, but then my momentum was killed after that.

“Getting that place and staying there is crucial. If I can string five games together, then we’ll see what happens.”

Working with Feek in the Ireland set-up since last year’s autumn internationals, Buckley has warmed to the New Zealander’s methods of training and scrum analysis, with the latter aspect now so important in the modern game.

He got a close-up view of how vital this improving Irish scrum can be in match situations when tasked with videoing the scrums at Eden Park last Saturday.

“It was great to watch, I don’t think you can scrum much better than that. It was very, very good,” agreed the 30-year-old, who will play with Sale Sharks following the World Cup.

“Mike (Ross) was well in control of every scrum, the whole way through there was a great sense of timing. Cian (Healy) did a great job.

“It was the eight forwards working together, the timing, the second rows, back rows, lads just knowing what to do and when to do it.”

He added: “Greg does an awful lot of work with all the front rows – we do a lot video work and drills. He’s very, very thorough, so you have no choice but to be looking at videos all the time, one-on-one sessions as well. He loves homework.

“It makes you more hungry to get back on the field and try to get some games under your belt.”

Although Ross is Ireland’s resident tighthead at present, it was only in this year’s Six Nations that the Leinster front rower managed to make his breakthrough into the team – and at the age of 31.

“Mike has had some great matches over the last few months, so I’m stuck as fringe squad player. It’s not where I want to be, but it’s where I am,” reflected Buckley, who can play on both sides of the scrum.

“I don’t plan on being in this position for long. If I get a run of games then hopefully I’ll be able to put some pressure on Mike.

“I can’t be too angry about it, I’m away from home for six weeks so being angry isn’t a good place to be. You have to stay calm and enjoy yourself.

“If you’re bitter around the training field you won’t enjoy yourself. The management are good, they’re open to talking to you and will tell you exactly where you are.”

Buckley’s challenge for the number 3 jersey had been let down by indifferent form and injury-enforced lay-offs. Nevertheless, he only has to look back to that night in New Plymouth last year for inspiration.

“It was a very strange game to be involved in. Jamie Heaslip was sent off after 10 minutes and then Ronan O’Gara got sin-binned, so for a stretch of the game we were down to 13 players,” he recalled.

“That was a nightmare because they were throwing the ball everywhere and we had to cover two positions. There were only six scrums in the games, so there was lots of open running, offloads and passing.

“We ended up getting lots of ball and I feel comfortable on the ball, so I really enjoyed the game. And I got a good shoulder into Richie McCaw. That felt good. In that match everything fell into place for me.”

The physical test the Russians will offer is one the Corkman is definitely relishing. “They are a big strong side, as were the Americans. They were putting in some big hits,” he noted.

“I’m delighted to be here now, but looking forward to getting back and playing well and showing what I can do at this World Cup – I just try to play as well as I can, that’s my aim.”

Follow the Ireland team in New Zealand on www.twitter.com/irfurugby.