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Doris: Given The Rivalry With Wales, It’s Going To Be A Big Test

Doris: Given The Rivalry With Wales, It’s Going To Be A Big Test

Ireland Men's 15s back rower Caelan Doris was unveiled as one of the new Lucozade Sport Athletes, alongside Ireland Women's Sevens newcomer Vikki Wall ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Caelan Doris says Ireland will not get distracted by what could possibly lie ahead next month, as they maintain ‘a week-to-week focus’ in their quest for back-to-back Guinness Men’s Six Nations titles.

Doris and his team-mates have returned to camp, and will have an indoor training session at the IRFU High Performance Centre this afternoon as they turn their attention to Saturday week’s home match against Wales.

Two rounds in and Ireland are top of the table following a couple of impressive bonus point wins over France (38-17) and Italy (36-0). They are two points ahead of England in second, and have scored seven more tries and conceded three less than their closest challengers.

Rather than viewing this year as the start of a new Rugby World Cup cycle, Andy Farrell’s men have approached it as an opportunity do something special in chasing a second successive Grand Slam, while rewarding their green wave of supporters at the same time.

Speaking as he was unveiled as one of the new Lucozade Sport Athletes, Doris said: “Not a whole lot (of talk about starting a new World Cup cycle), no to be honest. It’s largely been on focusing on continuing our journey from the last four years.

“The potential to do something special this year with back-to-back Grand Slams, which is a very exciting prospect. We haven’t touched on 2027 (the next World Cup) really yet.

“Our overarching principle and motivation and goal is inspiring the nation and both thanking and showing our appreciation for all the support we had through the last World Cup and so far this year with our performances. Trying to grow the game as much as possible.”

It was a momentous occasion for the Mayo-born back rower last Sunday as he captained Ireland for the first time at Test level. Notably, he is one of only three players, alongside Jack Crowley and James Lowe, who have played every minute of the defending champions’ 2024 campaign so far.

He had visible cuts and bruises to his face following a tough battle with the Italians. His tournament statistics show he has had one try involvement, one breakdown steal, 54.5% gain-line success with his 22 carries, 87.7% effectiveness from hitting 57 rucks in attack, and 85% success from his 20 tackle attempts.

According to the Opta Index, Ireland’s leading three performers against the Azzurri were Guinness Six Nations player-of-the-match Lowe, two-try hooker Dan Sheehan, and out-half Crowley, who scored his first international try and took his tournament haul to 22 points.

Doris has been impressed with how Crowley had coped with the pressure of replacing Jonathan Sexton in such a pivotal position, saying: “Jack’s been class. He’s still so young (at 24) but he has a wise head on his shoulders.

“He’s calm, steady, and he seems like he’s taking things in his stride pretty well. It’s a challenging position, to take over from Johnny and try and make sure he’s fulfilling the expectation of filling those boots.

“Johnny is probably our best ever player, an unbelievable number 10, and one of the best in the world, at the top of his game at 38. It’s a different ball game altogether, but Jack has been unbelievable.

“Obviously, Sexto was captain and a massive leader but Jack has been too. That part of his game will continue to develop, because there’s quite a big responsibility on a number 10 to lead the week, lead how we play the game.”

Chosen as skipper while Peter O’Mahony recovered from a calf injury, Doris admitted he ‘definitely had more nerves than usual’ when leading the team last week, becoming the 110th player to do so.

Lowe said that Doris’ pre-match speech was ‘outstanding, to the point, emotional, and direct’. It certainly hit the spot and seemed like he had done it all before. The Lacken native acknowledged that it was a challenging but rewarding week as captain.

“I found it harder to switch up. You’re not just thinking about your game and getting your preparation right, you’re thinking about the team and what they need to hear pre-training and post-training.

“There’s a couple more media requirements, there’s the captain meeting, just little bits through the week that for the first time require more thinking.

“I just found that usually in the evenings once I’ve done my work I’m fully off, while it is a bit more hard to stay present and enjoy certain times of the week when you have something big coming around the corner and you just want to do a good job.

“The feeling after a game feels a little more rewarding, given you put in a little more work, not just around my own performance but thinking of the team a bit more. It’s a little more rewarding from that point of view.”

Ireland’s route to becoming back-to-back Grand Slam winners is now a tricky Triple Crown leg, as it was for both the 2009 and 2018 clean sweeps. Amid growing talk outside of camp of a potential Grand Slam, Doris is understandably not looking beyond Wales.

The fifth-placed Welsh are in town next week, and they are a team he expects to improve further on their performances when narrowly losing to both Scotland and England. They have the third best tackle success (88.1%) in the Championship, and are the only team to score a maul try so far, other than Ireland.

“You obviously have your ‘north star’ and that’s what we’re heading for but if we get lost on that at the same time, you can get unstuck week to week. So, as clichéd as it is, it is important to maintain a week-to-week focus and not get lost in the whole Grand Slam chat.

“But of course it’s a special opportunity that we can potentially do (it), so we’re definitely motivated to try and do it.”

He added: “Wales were impressive in the second half against Scotland (scoring 26 points after being 27-0 down at half-time). They didn’t look themselves in the first half at all.

Given (Warren) Gatland and the leader and coach he is, some of the quality they have as well, I was expecting at least a bit of a comeback. But it was impressive the way they dealt with that.

“Again last week (against England) they were showing signs of…it’s obviously quite a young team with a few changes, they are definitely showing some positive signs.

“I’m sure they are going to improve over this week off, building into next week and as the tournament goes on. I think given the rivalry we’ve had with them and the nature of the Triple Crown game to come, it is going to be a big test.”