"The gap just opened up... I had to take it!" - Craig Casey on making every chance count
"You want to be on the pitch for every game."
Craig Casey had the water-carrier job, on November 13, when Ireland beat the All Blacks for only the third time in their long rugby history. He was on the pitch, but not exactly how he would like to be involved.
Eight days after Ireland's win over New Zealand, the Munster scrumhalf got his chance. Andy Farrell waited until Argentina were at arm's length - after Josh van der Flier's second try - but he still gave Casey and Harry Byrne a decent chunk of time to impress. In his 30 minutes on the pitch, Casey did just that.
We had Casey squaring up to much bigger Argentineans, getting in the referee's ear about a couple of calls, berating Byrne for a rash kick and, most importantly, not letting up on a flailing opposition. Casey was all action; all go.
"It was great," he reflected after Ireland's 53-7 victory. "I didn’t play the first two weeks but camp was unbelievable. You’re learning every day, off Jamo [Jamison Gibson-Park], Conor [Murray] and Luke [McGrath], when he came in. The four weeks have been class and then to top it off with 30 minutes and a win against Argentina has been great."
"The gap just opened up," Casey recalls
"I was doing the water [last weekend]," Casey added. "You want to be on the pitch for every game.
"But just to be in the stadium for a performance like that, it was unbelievable. And then you can’t not but back it up next week. Things went well and the prep went through the roof so it was great to back it up."
Ireland got off to a slow start as they fell 7-0 behind, but their rolling maul secured them two tries in response and Argentina left 13 points behind them, by half-time. In the second half, Ireland were ruthless and relentless. Casey was a big part of that.
"I've had good chats with all the coaches in camp," he said. "They've been really helpful, for what they want from me.
"Obviously they want you to play your game but mix it within what the team needs. I've had great chats with Faz and Catty [Mike Catt] over the last few weeks about what they need from me. Obviously playing at tempo is what we're going to be doing - you've seen that over the past few weeks. Bring that, but bring calm and composure to it."
Asked if the chats included pick-and-goes against hefty Argentinean forwards was part of that chats, Casey remarked, "The gap just opened up. I had to take it!"
While Conor Murray was less than accurate with his box-kicking and passing, it was Casey that looked more suited to this quicker style of play Ireland are looking to impose on teams. Saying that, Murray did well in this system against England, earlier this year, but Casey is putting him under pressure.
Craig Casey already looking ahead to 2022 Six Nations
Up next is a stretch of United Rugby Championship and European games, and Casey is keen to take his camp experience back as a spur with Munster.
"Competition is through the roof, you have to perform ever week, improve in every training session And every chance you get to improve is a chance that you have to take. Obviously the lads did well, Jamo did really well. You take from what you can from the games, I took from what Jamo did well, brought it into my game and then try to mix the two...
"I have to put my hand up every week that I play, when I go back to Munster. We're going into a few massive games, so it's a perfect chance to put my hand up and get back into the squad for February."
As for that mini bark at the referee, as the game wound down, Casey had fully calmed down by now.
"I got leathered on to the floor," he explained. "I was just checking if he saw it. All good!"