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‘It’s Such A Good Group To Be Leading’ – Doris

‘It’s Such A Good Group To Be Leading’ – Doris

Mayo native Caelan Doris will take over the Ireland captaincy from the injured Peter O'Mahony this weekend ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Six years on from captaining the Ireland Under-20s, Caelan Doris will lead the senior team for the first time when they host Italy in the second round of the Guinness Men’s Six Nations on Sunday.

A calf injury prevented Peter O’Mahony from training this week, so his back row colleague gets his first opportunity to lead Ireland at Test level, switching to openside flanker in the process.

Ryan Baird and Jack Conan come in to make it an all-Leinster back row, and Doris, who took over as captain during the closing stages of last week’s win over France, is thrilled to skipper the team on their return to the Aviva Stadium.

Ahead of Ireland’s first home game since last August, he told Irish Rugby TV: “Delighted to be captain for this week. Got the news early on, I found out on Tuesday afternoon, so it’s been pretty exciting.

“Lots of nerves but lots of excitement, and it’s helped by having such good people around me. Such a good group to be leading, it’s been made easy by them thankfully.”

It will be a hugely proud moment for the Lacken man and his family, and particularly too for Ballina Rugby Club, where he first started playing the game at the age of five.

He was at Heffernan Park as recently as St. Stephen’s Day, along with his parents Rachel and Chris, and his first Ireland senior jersey hangs prominently in the clubhouse alongside those of Michael Moylett, Gavin Duffy, and Dave Heffernan.

It was a few days before Doris captained Leinster for the first time against Ulster at the RDS. This weekend sees him become the 110th Ireland senior Men’s captain, following in the footsteps of his current provincial team-mates, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, and Tadhg Furlong.

It was nice to get a little taster of it last week towards the end of the game (in Marseille), without some of the kind of extra responsibilities and whatnot during the week.

“Looking at some of the names that have done it in the past, the ones I’ve experienced and played under in terms of Johnny (Sexton) and Pete, both gives me a bit of imposter syndrome but also reaffirms how big an honour it is. Delighted to be in this position.”

The 25-year-old, who has started 30 of Ireland’s last 31 Tests, described himself as an ‘actions first’ type of captain. He feels fortunate to be able to take to the field on Sunday alongside players with exceptional leadership qualities of their own.

In the starting XV, Ryan, Andrew Porter, and Robbie Henshaw have all played 60 or more times for Ireland, while Ulster captain Iain Henderson and Josh van der Flier will bring 137 caps’ worth of Test rugby nous with them off the bench.

“It’s a pretty experienced group, there’s a lot of leaders there in their own right which makes my job a lot easier. You’ve got some guys who are used to leading back at their provinces, who have stepped up around me.

“So it’s lessened the load for me and made it a real honour. I think ‘actions first’ (is my style of leadership), I think I pride myself on trying to lead by example in what I do.

“I think the message I’ve gotten from some of the other leaders around me has been focus on your own game, do what you’d usually do when you’re not captain.

“And then a little bit more emphasis on bringing other guys with you throughout the week, so I’ve been trying to do that as best as possible,” added Doris, ahead of his 38th appearance for Ireland.

Andy Farrell has always had confidence and faith in Doris as a player – he selected him for his debut in his first match in charge of Ireland – and believes that he has really developed his leadership skills, highlighting how they came to the fore during the recent Rugby World Cup.

“I’ve seen a lot from him obviously. To put him in that position (of captain) is a massive privilege for him, as I’m sure it is for Caelan and his family. Let’s recognise that first and foremost,” said Farrell.

He’s someone that has been on my mind for, certainly through the World Cup and how he’s come on as a leader, etc., and how’s he has dealt with being an international top-class player over the years.

“His story from his first cap to where he is now as a leader and as a professional has been astonishing really, behind the scenes. We’re excited to give him the reins and see what he can do with it.”

A member of the 2023 World Rugby Men’s Dream Team, Doris’ first taste of senior international rugby unfortunately lasted just four minutes. He announced himself by winning an early turnover penalty against Scotland, but his debut was ended shortly afterwards due to concussion.

The fact that he bounced back from that to end the Covid-19-disrupted year of 2020 with seven caps to his name, and a player-of-the-match performance against the Scots in December, tells you all you need to know about the direction this young player was heading in.

Farrell reckons he will take the captaincy duties in his stride, adding: “Obviously it’s his first time captaining his country, and he’s not done that much for Leinster neither, barring one a few weeks ago. Captaining the (Ireland) Under-20s too during his time with them.

“He’s someone who is unbelievably professional, very diligent in his own preparation so therefore because he’s so comfortable in his own skin, he’s able to think outside the box as far as helping everyone else with the bigger picture stuff.

“Even the detail stuff of his team-mates, etc., we’ve seen that flourish massively over the last couple of years, but more so throughout the World Cup.

“He’s a very calm and calculated type of individual that will have that reassurance on the rest of the group.”