Dave Kilcoyne knows that the bulk of the conversation won’t stray too far from tales of the frontrow, which is a pity because he’s an entertaining character capable of holding forth on matters way beyond the tight confines of the scrum or even the sport of rugby.
However, there are several newsworthy lines currently relating to props so it’s too good an opportunity not to seek his views. The 32-year-old Munster prop started Ireland’s last two internationals, against Japan and the USA during the summer, and prior to that was in the run-on team for two of four Six Nations Championship matches in which he was involved earlier in the year.
Kilcoyne pretty much shared those duties at loosehead with Cian Healy but a change of circumstances for the Leinster prop suggests that the two will no longer be in direct competition for the green jersey. Healy has switched to tighthead, a bold move and one that got off to an impressive start – he won a scrum penalty when coming on as a replacement – in the province’s win over the Bulls at the weekend.
It’s not as if the competition for Kilcoyne at national level has lessened to any degree as Andrew Porter has moved across to the loosehead berth in which he excelled in his formative years, both underage and initially as a senior player.
The Limerick man is unperturbed by matters over which he has no control. He explained: “I can see what they are doing up there. Whatever they feel they need to do to get the best out of their squad but I just focus on myself.”
He wouldn’t consider a switch to the darker side of the frontrow. “No, I have never done it [played tighthead]. I’d say I’d go to the backrow, maybe seven. I’d wish him [Healy] all the best, but it’s not for me.”
Kilcoyne’s first competitive assignment in the new season was as part of the Munster team that thumped the Sharks 42-17 on the opening weekend of the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC). He didn’t have the luxury of a pre-season “friendly”, a win over the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park, to blow away the cobwebs.
He spent much of the first 10 minutes trying to draw breath. He admitted: “I was wondering if it was me or the game, and chatting to the other lads they found it the same; it was very physical, very quick. You look at the [Sharks] secondrow [Roux] Roets, giant of a man. I think he carried four or five times in that first passage.
“He probably died a death after it but they were definitely physically there and they have a good tighthead in Thomas [du Toit];” he made six appearances for Munster on a short term contract in the 2016-2017 season.
Kilcoyne continued: “He [du Toit] is an excellent scrummager. They are huge, physical men. We have our own South Africans here and we know what they bring. It definitely was a physical encounter.”
One of those is 22-year-old, Irish-qualified Keynan Knox, who joined Munster in December 2017, having completed his schooling in his native South Africa and has played 16 times since making his debut against the Dragons in 2019. Kilcoyne endorsed his team-mate’s credentials. “The sky’s the limit for him.
“When you have a forwards coach like Graham Rowntree you are getting that world-class coaching at such a young age. He’s [Rowntree] always doing extras with him. Keynan is very diligent in his own training; he’s a freak in the gym, which is always good for your tighthead to be that strong.
“I thought he did very well at the weekend when he came on. But this weekend will be a big step up again. He’s a big South African tighthead.”
Kilcoyne understands the value of dispensing tough love to the young aspirant when it comes to “full-on” Tuesday scrum sessions at Munster training. He name-checked players like Marcus Horan, Wian du Preez, Darragh Hurley and Dave Ryan who provided tough competition for the number one jersey and rounded out his playing education.
He explained: “I remember BJ Botha going at me [in training]; we had big battles over the years and I learned more from that than I did from anything. I remember scrummaging against him a few times and coming home with a battered neck from Cork.
“He scrummaged in a particular way and I had to come to terms with that and learn how to cope with it. But that was the best lesson I ever learned and me going as hard as I can at Keynan in training is the best learning he’ll ever get.”
This weekend provides another opportunity to continue that progression as Munster welcome another South African side, the Stormers, to Thomond Park. Kilcoyne is adamant that the visitors won’t be long adapting to playing against northern hemisphere teams and in looking at the URC he believes that the tournament and its format will ultimately benefit all constituents.