It was a day to remember for Connacht’s Paul Boyle at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday as the Wexford native won his first Ireland cap.
The 24-year-old back rower was one of eight debutants on the night as Ireland wrapped up the Vodafone Summer Series with a 71-10 triumph over the USA.
With Andy Farrell’s men already on their way to a comfortable victory, Boyle replaced fellow novice Nick Timoney at openside flanker in the second half.
While he was prepared for whatever the game threw at him, he acknowledges the fact that Ireland were leading 38-3 when he came on made it easier for him to settle into the action.
“It was good and it was really enjoyable,” admitted Boyle afterwards. “I think I came on in the 53rd minute and we started scoring a right few tries. If you can’t find that enjoyable, I don’t know what you will find enjoyable!
“I was ready for every scenario, but I suppose when I was coming on I didn’t look at how the game was going even as such.
“I was focused on my own job of doing what I’m good at and what I wanted to bring to the table. It was really enjoyable in the end.”
What made the match all the more special for Boyle was the presence of 6,000 supporters at the Aviva, which was double the number that attended the previous week’s hard-earned success against Japan.
It meant it was possible for the former Ireland Under-20 captain to have his friends and family in the stands to see him make his international bow, but the big match atmosphere began for Boyle long before the 7.15pm kick-off.
It was brilliant. Coming on the bus on the way, I was looking outside the bus and all the pubs were outdoor dining, so we got a good cheer on the way in.
“It really made it real and it shows how much people care about Irish rugby. That was a real eye-opener to me in how much people care.
“Then at the game as well it was brilliant to be able to have my family there. I’d two sections of friends who ended up getting there over different sides of the stadium and they ended up roaring at each other.
“I had to try not to laugh when I was warming up at some stages! But it was brilliant to have them all there.”
While the likes of his provincial team-mate Caolin Blade and Ulster winger Robert Baloucoune had previously spent time in Ireland camp without picking up a cap, being part of the senior international environment was an entirely new experience for Boyle.
There were some elements of the national set-up that he had anticipated, but there were other parts of it that caught him off guard.
“It was daunting. I learned a lot. It was a really intense two and-a-half, three weeks. When you’re coming into an international camp, you really do account for the step-up in standard wise, in and around the training sessions,” he explained.
“What I didn’t account for quite as much was the intensity of the whole environment. Where even when you’re training, you’re looking at footage, you’re learning calls. You’re kind of just absorbed by rugby all the time.
“I probably didn’t quite account for that going in, but when you see other guys and more senior guys, the amount of detail they go into, it’s brilliant to learn off those guys. I’ll definitely bring that forward into my rugby now.”
Having come through the underage ranks in Leinster, Boyle was subsequently offered a place in his native province’s sub-Academy.
However, he missed out on a full Academy place and later switched to Connacht ahead of the 2017/18 season. He made his senior debut just a few months in, and now has 57 appearances for the westerners under his belt.
As one of head coach Andy Friend’s most trusted lieutenants, an impressive return of eight tries in 17 games this season ensured Boyle more than warranted his Ireland call-up.
Moreover, getting to wear a national jersey again – four years after captaining his country at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship – fully justifies his decision to move to Galway. He added:
I’ve always said since I’ve got to Connacht that I’ve absolutely loved it. There’s a lot of people I have to thank for getting me over in that direction.
“Nigel Carolan and Eric Elwood would be the two main guys, and Colin McEntee in the IRFU as well. Every since I’ve gotten there, I’ve been made feel at home.
“Since I’ve gotten into the squad under Andy Friend, I’ve really enjoyed it. Felt I was playing good rugby and I was delighted to get the call-up here and it’s brilliant to get the first cap.”