Try-scoring winger Calvin Nash has revealed the influence that Andy Farrell and Keith Earls had in calming his nerves ahead of his Guinness Men’s Six Nations debut for Ireland.
Nash notched a 45th-minute try at the end of a pulsating multi-phase attack, as deft handling from Robbie Henshaw and Caelan Doris got the ball free for the Limerick native to cross in the left corner.
It was a crucial score as 14-man France had built some momentum and hit back just before half-time, closing the gap to seven points. They did rally again with Paul Gabrillagues touching down, but Ireland deservedly took the spoils on a 38-17 scoreline.
He may be 26, and a BKT United Rugby Championship winner with Munster, but this was only Nash’s second Ireland cap and his first international start. Coming as it did in the bearpit that is Stade Vélodrome, he had to make sure to stay on top of his pre-match nerves.
His former provincial team-mate and Ireland centurion, Earls, was on the phone to offer some sage advice, and head coach Farrell’s man management skills came to the fore in putting the Six Nations newcomer’s mind at ease.
“I was quite nervous now, to be fair. I actually texted ‘Earlsy’ at the start of the week as well saying, ‘Man, I’m up the walls here now’,” revealed Nash.
“He just said, ‘Man, you need to enjoy it’. He wished he enjoyed it more. And yeah, that’s what I tried to do out there I suppose, to enjoy it.”
Farrell also gave him some reassuring words following the Captain’s run at the match venue, with the Munster flyer admitting: “It opened up my eyes to how good ‘Faz’ is with people, you know, looking out to see what way they are.
“He was like, ‘You’ve been quiet this week’. And I was like, ‘How has he spotted this?’. I had a good chat with him. He just said, ‘What are you going to do in attack? What are you going to do in defence?’ That kind of way. I had all the answers.
“So he was like, ‘There you go, there’s all the answers. Just be yourself’. To be honest, that made me feel way better. Faz says with great pressure comes massive privilege as well. It’s a great quote I feel.”
He added: “I had a good chat with (Ireland performance coach) Gary (Keegan) as well, the psychologist, on Thursday night, and he kind of reiterated what Faz was saying to me.
“‘Just be yourself. It’s not as if you just appeared in this Irish jersey, you’ve almost won it’, like, that kind of way. I think that really put my mind at ease, and it was all about just giving my best there, I suppose, and doing the best for the team.
“It was a great experience to hear the anthems and sing our own anthem. It was unbelievable, I’d love to do it again.”
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 4, 2024
During his 79 minutes on the pitch, Nash gained the most metres of any player with 76 metres made from eight carries. Along with one clean break, he made five tackles and ensured that he kept his opposing wingers, Yoram Moefana and replacement Louis Bielle-Biarrey, relatively quiet.
The moment he will look back with most fondness in the years to come is his first senior try for Ireland. He played down his own involvement in it, but he still had to apply a swift finish with Thomas Ramos coming across as the last defender.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it, but I remember just thinking, ‘Please can I get the ball here? Please, please, please!’. The lads did amazing work then and saw the space as well.
“Obviously Caelan (Doris) got the last pass away and I was delighted, like. I went over the line and it was unreal from everyone else to get me the ball. I suppose I was just standing there.”
As he broke into celebration, Nash immediately gave a nod to two of his team-mates who have christened him ‘Triangle Head’, which comes from the American animated series, ‘Phineas and Ferb’.
“Jeez, the two triangle heads, Conor Murray and Jack Conan! They’ve been at me all week,” he quipped about his new nickname. “So I had to give them something to cheer for if I scored. It was funny.”
The Young Munster clubman was supported in the stadium by his girlfriend Ciara (pictured below), dad Jason, and brother Brandon, who all made the trip over at the last minute. They were understandably beaming with pride when they embraced him after the game.
Having marked his first Six Nations appearance with a try, Nash’s loved ones will be hoping he can retain his starting place for next Sunday’s clash with Italy as Ireland run out at the Aviva Stadium for the first time in eight Tests.
His coach’s post-match assessment suggests that is more than likely, with Farrell saying: “It was a big week for Calvin and at the start of the week, I’m sure that there was a lot that was going through his mind but, through the help of his team-mates and the reassurance of what he brings to the team, he was able over the last couple of days to get himself to a point where he was able to be himself.
“I thought he looked strong on the ball and he is strong, isn’t he? His point of difference is always chasing something down and all that stuff that doesn’t take much talent. He nearly got one in the air as well from the kick-off and that’s part of his game as well.
“I thought he looked really assured. He’s tough. His defence was tough as well. He came off with a little bit of a dead leg there, so he’ll be fine.”