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Thursday 23 January 2020

Doris keeps his mind on Blue not Green

MAKING STRIDES: Caelan Doris has put himself in the frame for the Six Nations thanks to
his displays for Leinster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
MAKING STRIDES: Caelan Doris has put himself in the frame for the Six Nations thanks to his displays for Leinster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

When Caelan Doris first broke onto the scene with Leinster at the tail end of the 2017-2018 season, he ran into a common problem that many younger players encounter when they make the step up from age-grade rugby.

Doris had just come off the back a year in which he had captained the Ireland U20s and was such a standout at that level that running over the opposition came naturally to him.

The No 8 was more athletic than most players on the pitch, so it is little wonder that he was so effective in his ball-carrying as he was able to show off his full array of skills.

Suddenly, when he was asked to do it against bigger and more powerful professional athletes, it wasn't so easy.

It was no surprise then that Doris worked closely with Leinster's contact skills coach Hugh Hogan throughout last season as he looked to fine-tune the way in which he carries the ball against bigger men.

"It was the physicality and all that, yeah," Doris reflects. "I think I'm adjusting. It took a while to adjust to the physicality and the speed and all of it but I'm definitely a lot happier with the start of this season compared to last year.

"I think I have come on a bit and hopefully there is still lots of room for improvement. I'm enjoying it massively as well, which I think leads into that.

"I probably stick to the same core principles - running hard and good footwork, things like that.

"There's obviously not as much space at this level. Bodies are bigger and guys are better decision-makers as defenders. It's probably just adjusting to that.

"I haven't tweaked too many things in terms of my carrying. I'm making a few more metres this year than last year anyway."

Having clocked up 15 senior appearances last year, you always got the sense that this was a big season for Doris, particularly after Jack Conan picked up an injury at the World Cup.

With the impressive Max Deegan also providing stiff competition, Leinster's biggest task is keeping all of these young talents happy.

Had things worked out differently, however, Doris would be playing for Connacht. Growing up in Lacken, a village just outside Ballina (with whom he began playing rugby), the 21-year-old moved to the capital where he enrolled in Blackrock College.

There aren't too many 15-year-olds who get selected for the Senior Cup team when they are in fourth year, but Doris' quality was evident from early on.

"It is satisfying, yeah," he says of making the step up to European level in such a short space of time.

Performance

"But hopefully there's a lot more to go in terms of performance. I think I have a good bit more to show.

"I just want to continue winning collisions on both sides of the ball, making as many metres as possible off carries and hopefully freeing up my hands and bringing more offloads back into the game as well, which was probably one of my strengths at underage.

"Obviously it's harder again at this level but hopefully that will eventually shine through.

"I didn't have too much of a taste of it last year, just the two minutes against Toulouse in the semi, so I wasn't really sure how much of a step up it would be. But it was nice having Treviso as my first start, even though I only lasted 15 minutes with the head knock, it was nice, a team that I was familiar with so it didn't feel like too much of a step up, even though it was Heineken Cup.

Juggling his final year of a psychology degree in UCD, Doris has already started two of Leinster's three Champions Cup games (the only one he missed was through injury), and he is in line to make that three on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium with Northampton coming to town.

Naturally enough, the calls for him to be included in Ireland's Six Nations squad are growing louder by the week - not that you'd know it from his demeanour, however, as he would prefer to keep his head down and let his rugby do the talking.

"I genuinely haven't thought about it too much but I suppose naturally if you're starting 8 for Leinster and obviously with Jack out as well, and if you're performing there could be an opportunity there," Doris adds.

"But my focus has been on performing for Leinster and doing my best there, and not worrying too much about what will happen in the future."

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