Gilroy's performance on Millennium stage proves a convincing narrative

Ireland's Craig Gilroy is nabbed by Leigh Halfpenny in last Saturday's 30-22 victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland's Craig Gilroy is nabbed by Leigh Halfpenny in last Saturday's 30-22 victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

RUGBY:Two weeks ago and the narrative ran in act one, scene one that Craig Gilroy was a worry, a terrible concern. The winger was too weak, too small, too inexperienced, too jinky and against Wales too little of substance to leave so much to chance.

Declan Kidney threw him in anyway and when asked he smiled as if he could see the questions coming all the way from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

His back-offering was that if he hadn’t picked the Ulster winger he’d be answering queries about what the matter was with Gilroy.

Act two, beer goggles, mid-afternoon, Saturday last. In pubs everywhere, watching Ireland against Wales on the giant screen was a bit of heaven.

The talk was of Cuthbert (6ft 6in) and North (6ft 4in) and who would clear the Irish debris. In the 57th-minute a hurled body flies in from the side and a Welshman crumples. Picking himself off the turf is the fresh-faced Gilroy, his calling card in fullback Leigh Halfpennny’s scrumcap.

Freeze-dry the hit and Kidney’s knowing smile seems less mysterious. Shinning willingness makes its mark.

No real rest

“When you make it, it is a relief that you got man on ball,” said Gilroy. “I actually remember seeing him on the ground and then I saw the ball just rolling away, so I just thought job’s not done yet. There is no real rest. You haven’t a second to congratulate yourself. You have to keep going.

“Going into that game you don’t want to worry too much about who your opposite number is. You want to be focused on the game as whole. But we can definitely take confidence from that (tackle).

“Defensively, that is a side of the game that I have been working on a lot with Johnny Bell at Ulster and Less Kiss here so, yeah, I take confidence from it. I still wouldn’t take anything away from those two, Alex (Cuthbert) and George (North).”

Gilroy has been learning the realpolitik of professional rugby. Benched in Ulster with a fit Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble but impressing the Irish coaches, the seemingly counter-intuitive selection between province and country is similar to paying the bond holders – incomprehensible but you have to swallow it. But with Ireland, despite Simon Zebo’s star quality, he’s managing to steal the odd scene.

“As you can imagine it can be a bit frustrating but it is about the team at the end of the day and I can’t let the frustration get the better of me,” he said. “I just had to take it on the chin and back Mark’s (Anscombe) decision, keep my head down and try to come on and make an impact.

“If you look at the two guys who are ahead of me, Tommy and Andrew, they are international players with a 100 caps between them so you can’t be too disappointed. At the same time you do want to be playing the whole time.”

Gilroy is not the type to walk into the Ulster office and bang his fists. His current strategy is simple. Like any player with the shirt he’ll hold it and make it difficult for Kidney and Anscombe not to pick him when Bowe’s knee is good.

Competitive wings

His strength is that he’s nothing like the Bowe package, although with Trimble, Zebo, Fergus McFadden, possibly Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls too, the wings are competitive.

Stepping up is the phrase. That’s just what Gilroy has done on demand.

“I enjoy it almost even more at that speed,” he said. “The fast play suits my style of rugby, especially from broken play. That is beneficial to me and if I get the ball in a bit of space . . . It (international match) is a bit of everything, really. It is very fast, more physical. Even the intensity to it at the breakdown . . .

“It was a pretty big step up. It is funny when you hear guys talking about it. You are playing them with their Welsh clubs week-in and week-out and it is the same guys. But when you step up it seems much more intensified.”

The last time Gilroy faced England was at Under-20 level and Ireland lost. Owen Farrell played inside centre that day. But for Gilroy’s generation the fear of English might is no longer as acute and they hope to “prove a point”.

No concern, no baggage and what a difference that makes.

England changes Haskell set to start with Tuilagi on bench

England’s backrow, rather than their midfield, will be the key point of difference when Stuart Lancaster finally confirms his starting XV today to face Ireland in Dublin. The English side will feature a return for James Haskell of Wasps at flanker and a new role, at number eight, for Northampton’s Tom Wood but the existing centre combination of Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees is set to remain in situ.

Lancaster may have selected differently had Manu Tuilagi been in rampaging form on the training ground following his ankle injury but the management, for now, is understood to have opted to stick with the same back division that performed so well against Scotland at Twickenham last weekend. Tom Youngs is being tipped to retain his place at hooker in preference to Dylan Hartley, which leaves Haskell for the injured Ben Morgan as the only change in personnel.

Ryan Jones will return to captain Wales against France in Paris tomorrow after Sam Warburton was ruled out through injury.

Jones has recovered from a thumb problem to lead Wales for a record 30th time as blindside flanker along with openside Justin Tipuric, who comes in for the benched Aaron Shingler. Richard Hibbard replaces Matthew Rees at hooker.

WALES (v France): L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, A Cuthbert; D Biggar, M Phillips; G Jenkins, R Hibbard, A Jones, A Coombs, I Evan, R Jones (capt), J Tipuric, T Faletau. Replacements: K Owens, P James, C Mitchell, L Reed, A Shingler, L Williams, J Hook, S Williams.

FRANCE (v Wales): Y Huget; W Fofana, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, B Fall; F Michalak, M Machenaud; Y Forestier, D Szarzewski, N Mas, J Suta, Y Maestri, F Ouedraogo, T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles. Replacements: B Kayser, V Debaty, L Ducalcon, R Toafifenua, D Chouly, M Parra, F Trinh-Duc, F Fritz.

ITALY (v Scotland): A Masi; G Venditti, T Benvenuti, G Canale, L McLean; L Orquera, T Botes; A Lo Cicero, L Gharaldini, M Castrogiovanni, Q Geldenhuys, F Minto, A Zanni, S Favaro, S Parisse (capt). Replacements: D Giazzon, A De Marchi, L Cittadini, A Pavanello, P Derbyshire, E Gori, K Burton, G Garcia.

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