Caolin Blade determined not to be a ‘passenger’ in Ireland’s Dublin fixtures

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Uncapped Caolin Blade is determined not to be “a passenger” in Ireland’s squad after suggesting nerves got the better of him following his maiden international call-up.

Connacht scrum-half Blade is in contention for his Test debut in next month’s Dublin clashes with Japan and the United States.

The 27-year-old spent time in the Irish camp during the 2019 Guinness Six Nations under Joe Schmidt but failed to make an appearance.

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He has been forced to wait almost two and a half years to earn another opportunity and believes he is better equipped to make a lasting impression on current head coach Andy Farrell.

“I was there for the first five weeks (in 2019). Looking back on that experience, I’ve had a good bit of time to reflect,” he said.

“I was brought in because there were quite a few injuries and I suppose I was probably a little bit nervous and not as confident as I am now in my game and my skills.

“Coming into this camp, I think I am playing a little bit better and, for myself, I feel like I deserve to be here.

“It’s helped me be more comfortable coming into this environment and instead of being a passenger, I am trying to get my style and personality across.”

Blade is among 12 uncapped players in Ireland’s 37–man group.

With Conor Murray away with the British and Irish Lions, he will compete with Jamison Gibson-Park and Craig Casey – both of whom have made their international bows under Farrell – for the number nine jersey.

His inclusion came ahead of provincial team-mate Kieran Marmion, Ulster’s John Cooney and Leinster man Luke McGrath.

Blade acknowledges that his country is well stocked in the scrum-half department and is acutely aware of the challenges that brings.

“It’s keeping me on edge that if I do get an opportunity I do need to perform because there’s lads there waiting,” he said.

Andy Farrell's Ireland host Japan and the United States next month
Andy Farrell’s Ireland host Japan and the United States next month (Brian Lawless/PA)

“You need to have two top nines in a 23 because I think the days of a scrum-half playing 80 minutes are long gone. I think you need a 20 or 30-minute scrum-half off the bench nearly every game.

“Irish rugby in the sense of scrum-halves is in a good place.”

New Zealand-born Gibson-Park has emerged as the main candidate to challenge Murray’s decade-long dominance of the role since Farrell succeeded Schmidt after the 2019 World Cup.

Diminutive Blade, who stands around 5ft 6in, is eager to stake his claim and feels he offers different qualities to “exceptional” Munster man Murray.

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“These two games are a good starting point. When Jamison played in the Six Nations, he had a good campaign but it all starts here in training and trying to get your foot in the door or getting that number nine for a game,” he said.

“I think there definitely is, while Conor’s away with the Lions, an opportunity for the three of us to take our chance and to take it well.

“He (Conor) is a lot taller than me, so I think my game is a little bit different to his.

“The basics of scrum-half is passing and kicking and I think he’s been exceptional for the last 10 years doing that so I would base myself looking at him but I feel like I’m too much of a different player to be trying to evolve my game to be like his.”

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