Elliot Daly’s last trip to Dublin, two weekends ago, was, he admits, a “weird” experience. England’s bid for back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams fell short as Eddie Jones’s men were outfought and outthought by Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, bringing their world record-equalling run of 18 consecutive victories juddering to a halt.
They then had to grit their teeth and smile their way through what was, in truth, the hollowest of trophy presentations as they collected their Six Nations winners’ gongs on the Aviva Stadium turf before going out to ‘celebrate’ in Dublin.
Some of them clearly managed to enjoy themselves to judge from photos which later emerged of a dishevelled Billy Vunipola staggering out of a nightclub, but it must have been a strange atmosphere?
“We had a good time,” Daly insists. “It was a massive achievement to win the Six Nations back to back... [though] obviously when you lose the game and still get the trophy it’s a weird feeling.”
Daly is hoping it will be joy unconfined for those of an English persuasion when he returns to Dublin on Saturday with Wasps. The Premiership leaders take on Leinster for a place in the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup and this time there will be no consolation prize if they lose.
On paper the match-up has all the makings of a humdinger; two teams bristling with attacking intent, both top of their respective leagues, back at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland’s Six Nations win (which involved multiple players from both teams) still fresh in the memory, Stuart Lancaster coaching the opposition, the battle for British & Irish Lions selection simmering away in the background.
If Daly is at all fazed by the magnitude of what is at stake, either today or over the next weeks and months with the Premiership play-offs and the Lions, he does a good job of hiding it. He appears supremely relaxed, back in the bosom of his Wasps family for the first time in 10 weeks.
In fact, for such a fizzing, electric player, someone who by all accounts is a bundle of energy in camp, who Wasps captain Joe Launchbury (to whose daughter he is godfather) says “likes to think of himself as a bit of a practical joker”, Daly plays the straightest of bats.
Take this, for example, on the prospect of going head-to-head with potential Lions rival Garry Ringrose this afternoon: “We’re not thinking about [the Lions]. It’s just getting out there, playing well and seeing where that takes us.”
Or this on his progress as a player over the past 18 months and whether he has learnt from team-mates Kurtley Beale and Willie le Roux: “I feel like I’m reading the game well at the moment, but you can always get better, learn from people like [Le Roux and Beale] and try to take it to the next level. I haven’t played with Willie yet but Kurtley sees things really early and you try to learn from that because it’s a massive thing to see space in the back field early, to see where the defenders are. He’s a world-class player and a seasoned international player. So if he says your line’s wrong, your line’s probably wrong and you probably have to change it.”
Or this on the prospect of ‘getting revenge’ on the Irish at the Aviva: “Every game is different. We go back every year to Premiership stadiums. We lost at Northampton once, went back and beat them by quite a lot. It is a new game, a new day.”
But surely he must have learned something from that game? What do Wasps need to do differently from England against a Leinster team expected to be just as physical? “Just play the conditions a little bit better. It was wet when we played and we probably could have adapted a little quicker but that’s something that happens on the pitch on the day. I don’t think there is a lot to transfer from that.”
Maybe the fact that Daly keeps his cards close to his chest is not all that surprising when you consider how young he is. For all that he has established himself in just a few short months as an indispensable cog in Jones’s England machine – and, in all probability, in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad – he is only 24. Daly is still finding his feet. Jones considered him sufficiently wet behind the ears to shield him from media duties during the Six Nations.
But there is no doubt he is establishing himself – rapidly – both on and off the pitch. Having been appointed the squad’s ‘coffee connoisseur’ by captain Dylan Hartley in the autumn (who also made the new boy sweep out the changing rooms), Daly brought his own coffee machine to Pennyhill Park during the Six Nations.
“It ended up being quite a few of the boys coming round every day for a coffee,” he admits. “It was good, it brought us all together.” Any nightmare customers? “Ben Te’o was in there every day, he’s probably the nightmare customer. [One day I found him] in my room… without a key, I don’t know how he got in. He was just sitting there waiting for it.”
On the pitch, meanwhile, it will be for his sensational match-winning try in Cardiff that he will be remembered by most (Daly says he is not yet getting recognised on the streets of Leamington). That and his versatility, which saw him play on the wing but with licence to roam.
“He’s definitely not a tighthead,” was Wasps director of rugby Dai Young’s verdict when asked whether he felt Daly could slot in just about anywhere on the pitch. “But yes.”
Interestingly, Young added that he felt Daly would want to “nail down” a consistent position in the England team at some point in the next season or two, rather than move about too much.
Daly, of course, doesn’t bite, flicking this question, as he has so many others, off his pads, as befits a former Surrey age-grade cricketer.
“Ah, I’m just happy to be in the team,” he smiles. “I like the challenge of playing somewhere different and then coming back here [to play 13]. You get to know different positions – what I need to do as a 13 to give the winger space or what I need to do as a 15 to give the winger space. It gives you an all-round game that will help you in the long run.”
If Daly can handle Johnny Sexton and Leinster as easily today, Wasps fans will be smiling.