Cian Prendergast on the Ireland team bus and who gets the back row seats
"We were like, 'we expected this'."
Cian Prendergast was first called into an Ireland camp in June 2022, in a season that saw him win the young player of the year accolade. Just over one year on and he believes he has made massive improvements, as a player and a person.
Having not found an academy spot at Leinster, Connacht were almost immediately on the phone to the Kildare native and offered him a chance that he snatched. Slotting in with with Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle and Shamus Hurley-Langton, the 23-year-old has built on his breakthrough 2021/22 season. Along the way, he picked him his first senior Ireland cap, in a home win over Fiji.
Asked what he took away from being part of an historic, series-winning tour to New Zealand, last summer, he lauds the coaching and man management of head coach Andy Farrell. "When you're there in New Zealand and wrapped up in a bubble, you can't comprehend what you're achieving," he said.
"Faz has an amazing way of... he instils such belief in us that when you win a game, it's kind of like, 'we knew we were capable of this'. We obviously lost the first two games and then they won the first Test and we were like, 'we expected this'. Then we won the game against the Maoris and it's like, 'this is amazing, but we knew we were capable'. Then we won the Test series and we knew we were going over there to win this.
"When you go home and reflect on it in the year past, I'm actually getting memories on my phone from the tour. That's how amazing a time it was. Having that foundation to build on as a group going into something hopefully really special."
Cian Prendergast on team bus dynamic
Cian Prendergast is still finding his feet in the Ireland squad and is up against it to get one of those final back row spots in the final 33-man selection. Andy Farrell will already have a good idea of his main squad but training run-outs and the home games against Italy and England will ultimately settle those final, contested slots.
During that tour of New Zealand, last summer, Prendergast pointed to Keith Earls as a senior player that set the tone and showed some of the fresher faces what playing Test rugby for Ireland entailed, and meant.
"Keith was great for us," the Connacht forward said. "He'd played the Maoris when he was 19, 20 years old when they toured a while back. He was good explaining to us what the Haka was like to a lot of us that hadn't experienced it. What to think during the Haka, how to react to it and how to be respectful towards it.
"At the same time he wasn't overbearing. He was himself and allowed us to be ourselves and the result showed in that second game [when he was captain]."
Focusing on the relationship between the young lads with the senior players, we asked about the team bus dynamic. One of the changes Farrell brought in, after taking over from Joe Schmidt, was to listen to feedback from his leadership group and arrange a separate bus for the players. The coaches and backroom staff travel to matches and to and from training in a different bus.
Asked who the big dogs are, down the back row, Prendergast replied, "It's nothing like that.
"It keeps the bus light-hearted. Everyone is comfortable being themselves. No-one feels they have to be too serious. Then you get to training and you're ready to do your work. The lads that are more experienced sit down at the back, it keeps it light-hearted. We have different groups that have to do different touring information or joke of the day or thought of the day. It keeps everyone on their toes and we can have a bit of craic."
Confirming that Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy and Johnny Sexton are the main men, down the back, Prendergast joked, "Yeah, but I wouldn't stray that far back though."
In New Zealand, Prendergast and Leinster lock Joe McCarthy were on the 'thought of the day' group - sent forward to provide a fact, thought or musing to keep the squad interested, or entertained.
"It could be anything really, just whatever's in your head," Prendergast commented. "Big Joe is really good for that to be fair, he can come out with some interesting thoughts... Honestly, I don't know what that man sometimes but they could be from his head. He's always interesting"
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