Shane Daly’s header will be swapped this week as he pauses his duties at Munster and reports camp with Simon Easterby’s junior side in Ireland for the next three-match round to Bloemfontein.
He was still only 25, and he was about 22 when he debuted at the county level, but he would go from one of the less experienced members of one group to a real, older boss of another group as he made his way from Limerick to Dublin .
He knows this.
Easterby, who will serve as head coach in South Africa, explained that the Ireland staff are looking forward to seeing how the players behave off the pitch as well as on it. They are looking for leaders as well as match winners.
Daly looks in good stead given that he has traveled to South Africa three times with Münster and once with Ireland. He has played in Bloemfontein himself and has the added experience of two big test games and multiple team rallies to reference.
“Yeah sure. You can’t really ask for much more than that. There are a lot of lads who go to camp now on Friday who have never heard of any of the calls and have never been in that environment, and that helps with the fact that I’ve been there in the past.”
“For me, it’s going to be about helping these boys as well and using whatever experience I have because we don’t have a lot of time together once we get there, so that’s going to be important.” This tour has not been universally welcomed for obvious reasons with counties having to lay off a large portion of their teams because of it and Daly admits he is “delighted” with the call and “sick” at losing some URC ties.
Despite this, the overall feeling is one of excitement. He talks passionately about his earlier stints in Camp One and the delicate balance that has been struck between the relaxed atmosphere created by Andy Farrell and their highly professional approach to their work.
The style of play that modern Ireland favors only fuels that.
Daly was selected as one of only three positions on the trip but he started at full-back for Monster last week in Cardiff and the bulk of his job last season was on the wing. He understands the benefits and risks that come with this type of resume.
Still listed as a center on Monster’s website, it has drifted away to other divisions in the past few years as a result of the straightforward way the midfield was used under the previous management. This was not his style or strength.
Graham Rowntree’s promotion and the arrival of Mike Prendergast as an offensive coach is something new there and Daly has already seen a change of perspective in the way the three defenders are expected to link play more and act less as offensive runners.
Not that the wards were not allowed to swerve and seek work before, but that they were not an integral part of the system – as was the case with Ireland – and he feels that only individual errors have so far countered the progress of their form.
Finally, he has the air of a man who is excited about what the club and the national team are waiting for.
“I was kind of screaming for someone to give me a license to express myself on the field. Last season I felt like we were quite organized with a three-way rear view. I wouldn’t say it was the right or wrong way, but it definitely limited his ability to play the ball a bit.
“If you’re a good hits runner or just one of those guys with speed, that’s good for you, but if you’re not, you might get frustrated on the field and wait for the ball to come in, and I feel like that’s gone now.
“If I want to be in the game now I can just get off my wing and actually look for the ball. This ability to express yourself in any job is something you want to do and especially in rugby, it’s something I am very excited about this season.” This close alignment between county and national setup could only help the likes of Daly through the upcoming season, but this tour to South Africa brings with it the opportunity to direct one’s nomination for higher honors.
Easterby has announced his desire to see half a dozen men join Team A when they face the New Zealander’s equivalent in November, with the first team when they welcome Fiji to Dublin, and possibly even when they leave next year’s World Cup.
Daly wants to be one of them.
“Everyone has that in their head where they want to be. The World Cup is a big thing we have to target at the end of the season. You’d be crazy to go on this tour and not aim for it. It’s a massive opportunity to play the Irish way against the Irish coaches.”