Finlay Bealham primed for his first start for Ireland
Canberra-born prop ready for new milestone after tasting glory in Chicago
Finlay Bealham celebrates Ireland’s victory over the All Blacks at Soldier Field. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Finlay Bealham is in line for his first start on Saturday when Ireland take on Canada. In three caps to date, he has amassed a total of 60 minutes, twice replacing Tadhg Furlong and once Jack McGrath.
It’s a nice personal milestone to follow on from his debut against Italy in last season’s Six Nations, an appearance in the second Test of the summer tour against the Springboks and last weekend’s tour de force in upsetting the All Blacks in Chicago.
The 25-year-old Canberra-born, former Australia schools international qualified for Ireland through his grandmother from Enniskillen and after swapping the Ulster academy for a senior contract at Connacht became an integral part of last year’s Guinness Pro12-winning side.
The obvious qualities centre on his ability to play both sides of the frontrow but that sells him short; his handling, offloading, peripheral vision and awareness ensure he’s remarkably comfortable whatever the circumstances.
The majority of the Ireland squad never quite managed to get their sleep patterns right last week in Chicago in the run-up to the game and also in the aftermath, but that might not have extended to Bealham, whose account of a week in Chicago appeared pretty chilled.
He enjoyed the build-up to the match, taking in the sights and sounds of the Cubs World Series win, when not working through the finer detail of the Irish gameplan.
He knew he’d be called upon. New Zealand play a high tempo game and it’s rare in recent times for the starting props to toil past the 60-minute mark.
Bealham replaced Furlong after 56 minutes and was sucked into the vortex of the All Blacks’ recovery from a 22-point deficit. The players had spoken about it beforehand – they knew that New Zealand traditionally scored a bucketful of points in the final quarter.
Bealham admitted: “There was a lot of responsibility on the subs to come on and make an impact. It was a tough game to come into, there was a lot of running so I was blowing a bit but it was a great experience in the end.”
He deflected any praise for his work in the scrum leading up to Robbie Henshaw’s try, getting an angle for Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip, preferring to point out on the small improvements here and there that the review highlighted.
He also offered a little insight into Ireland’s pre-match tribute to the late Anthony Foley in which the players formed a figure of eight in facing the challenge of the haka.
“I’m not sure where it started but on Thursday they brought it up that we were going to pay tribute to Axel. That was a really big moment for me, it was really touching and meant a lot to all the lads. Hopefully, he was watching down on Saturday with a lot of pride.
“We walked through it after the captain’s run on Friday and we all had our little positions; they had it down on a piece of paper where we where going to be. Everyone knew where they had to stand, so there wasn’t too much confusion on Saturday.
“CJ [Stander], Zeebs [Simon Zebo], Conor Murray, all the lads were unbelievable on the weekend and they played extremely well, just like everyone. The lads are pretty proud at the moment.”
Speaking of the haka, the television cameras alighted on Bealham for a moment or two at that point in the pre-match preamble doling out what can only be described as a death stare to the All Blacks.
He laughed: “A few lads and people from home were sending me pictures. I think the sun was blinding me, I couldn’t really see, so I was squinting a little bit.”