Sean McMahon reporting from Murrayfield
Ultan Dillane made his first appearance for Ireland in 15 months when he came off the bench in their 22-13 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon.
The last time the Kerry man represented his country was when he started a 23-20 win over Fiji at the Aviva Stadium in November 2017.
The 25-year-old has worked tirelessly this season to work his way back into the Ireland reckoning and he received a major boost when he was named in Joe Schmidt’s original 38-man squad for the 2019 Six Nations.
An injury crisis at second-row has seen Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne and most recently, Devin Toner ruled out through injury.
Dillane’s 13-minute cameo showcased his dynamism and his threat in the air as he stole a Scottish lineout by getting above Jonny Gray.
“Personally, it’s definitely (great to be back), I was about to say clean slate but it’s taken a lot of work to get back into the squad,” Dillane said in the mixed zone after the game.
“There’s certainly a lot of competition. We don’t know where things could have been had Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne been fit. Two fantastic players, so. You just have to take opportunities you get and yes, it does feel great to be back in the squad but trying to stay there is another thing now!”
Ireland’s win on Saturday, although it wasn’t a perfect performance, will come as a huge relief but Dillane says there wasn’t exactly anxiety in the camp in the build to up the Round 2 clash, rather they wanted to put in a performance against Scotland that they thought they would have produced against England.
It wasn’t that (anxiety). It was more that the lads wanted to start the way everyone intended to. There was a lot of talk about the amount of pressure we were going to put on England last week and I think everyone, we were a bit shocked at how we didn’t deliver.
“Maybe anxiety in that respect could potentially happen again but I think the mindset was just perfect by the experienced boys in the team to just get us going today.”
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt singled out Dillane for his lineout steal against Gray and he will hope that his brief performance on Saturday will keep him in the reckoning over the next two weeks as the squad prepare for their trip to Rome to take on Italy but as the Connacht man says, he’s trying not to focus on what may or may not happen down the line.
“It’s just the matter of getting a run of games provincially and not thinking too far away from where the task at hand. I just had to take each game as it comes. If you get selected for anything else. That’s a bonus. You can’t let yourself get distracted by selections and all that.”