Mike Haley hoping he fits Schmidt’s eye after debut run against Italy

Munster back’s versatility could stand to him as coach prepares to trim World Cup squad

Mike Haley in action on his Ireland debut against Italy at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Mike Haley in action on his Ireland debut against Italy at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

When Eddie Jones called him up to the England squad for a three-day training camp in May 2016 it is unlikely Mike Haley was ever thinking of making his debut for Ireland in Dublin three years later.

But the Munster player, whose grandmother comes from Tralee, is content to show patience as he picks his way through the summer. A 20-minute run against Italy in his debut, firstly on the wing for the irrepressible Andrew Conway before falling into his more usual fullback position mapped the 25-year-old as an Irish international player.

Haley is moving cautiously forward as Joe Schmidt soon begins to flash the scalpel and cut back the squad, his attitude is to first take the baby steps.

“It’s a team game and Ireland’s one of the best teams in the world,” he said. “It would be more detrimental to myself if I was to go out trying some individual genius.

“Where as if I slot into what the team does and the team philosophy, that will be better for me. That was the key to it. I didn’t want to over-do anything. I just wanted to go out and be myself. Coming off the bench you want to make sure everything you do is for the betterment of the team. You just gotta do what you can do. [Cuts] are up to the coaches . . . ”

Schmidt is preparing to thin out his group of players before the team take off to Quinta do Lago in Portugal for warm weather training with Haley hoping to hang in and perhaps become one of the famed bolters on the plane to Japan come the World Cup in September.

His isn’t one of the names that would jump out as a World Cup pick but Schmidt sees something he likes about the mild-mannered back, who is both pragmatic and optimistic. He has the cap. The next phase is to hang in.

“You’ve got to be a bit realistic about it,” he says. “I’ve come into this with no caps, now I’ve one cap I can’t expect to go so far.

“I’ve got to be short [-term] minded and short-visioned about what I’m going to do this week and then it re-sets on Sunday and we go again. That’s the mentality. I don’t want to look too far in the future. I just want to enjoy what I’m doing at the time.”

It was Haley’s grandmother who nudged him towards Ireland, although he had made his debut for the England Saxons on their tour against South Africa ‘A’ in 2016. That appearance did not tie him fully to the Rugby Football Union because at the time, the South Africa ‘A’ side was not regarded as the South African Rugby Union’s second-string national team.

He also represented an England XV against the Barbarians in a international at Twickenham in 2017. Again that was a non-cap match as the Barbarians are a club side. Then Ireland came up.

“Bar when my grandma’s been drilling it into me,” he says about background music from Tralee. “It came up when I was coming up out of contract. I had spoken to Munster a few times over the years and kept tabs with Joe. The opportunity came.

“Firstly to go to Munster doesn’t come around all the time. So I jumped at that and then it was ‘go out and play’ and see what happens on the international scene. Now I’m just taking it week by week, sticking in as long as I can.

“I can actually play a number of positions, it’s just that every team or club I’ve been at have played me fullback. I can play on either wing and I’m happy to do that. At the end of the day I’m just happy to be on that field. If they ask me to go on at wing, I’ll go on wing 100 per cent.”

The former Sale Sharks player found out last Monday he was on the bench. This week if Schmidt cuts his squad before departure on Wednesday and Haley remains, Portugal would be another milestone.

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