Journey to Dublin no flight of fantasy for club internationals

SCOTLAND club international coach Ally Donaldson has told his charges many times that they should see the club Test stage as a chance to progress to the full international arena, but his message took on new impetus yesterday when the team flew to Dublin with their senior counterparts.

The club side will face Ireland Club XV at Old Belvedere’s open park just around the corner from Leinster’s Donnybrook ground tonight (6.30pm).

Having won their first game against France, the players go into the game looking to strike both a first away win and a first-ever double success in the same year, and claim the Dalariada Cup.

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Joining forces with the full Scotland squad, heading across the Irish Sea in search of a first win of the year, provided an extra boost according to Donaldson.

“It was fascinating being with the senior squad and seeing the likes of Lee Jones, who was with the club international side just two years ago, and Matt Scott, the 24th man for Scotland this weekend, and who played for us just last year.

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“Of course the boys know they have progressed but just being there with them travelling helped to reinforce the message that this club platform does provide a genuine opportunity to young talents and maybe some passed over initially to push on and prove that they are capable of making the step up to the pro level.

“It is also a great opportunity for other guys who maybe won’t reach that level or are past the stage of aiming for that but who have shown great form with their clubs and earned the right to represent their country.

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“The commitment these guys show, some taking time off work and losing money to be here with us, is fantastic and just underlines how much this means to them.”

There are a handful of players very close to following Jones and Scott, including Fraser Thomson, the Melrose full-back and Currie wing Dougie Fife, while the entire squad is made up of a good blend of experienced club talent and youth.

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The Irish have named five new caps in their starting line-up, all in the backs, Lansdowne’s Craig Ronaldson at stand-off, Mike Kelliher, the Young Munster centre, and a new back three combination of Cathal Quinn (Cork Constitution), Cian Aherne (Lansdowne) and Ballymena’s Rodger McBurney.

That leaves scrum-half Gerry Hurley from Cork Constitution and Clontarf outside centre Killian Lett as the sole survivors from last year’s match in the back division. But, up front, the pack is similar to the side which claimed its first victory on Scottish soil last year, a narrow 32-30 win.

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Donaldson knows his side face a tough task to strike a first win in Ireland, but he remains optimistic.

This will probably be his last game in charge, the Currie coach having enjoyed two two-year stints at the helm, and so the opportunity is expected to pass to another leading club coach next season, only heightening the desire in the camp to see a new frontier crossed in Dublin this evening.

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He said: “This is a huge step-up for the players, even from the British and Irish Cup and there is no getting away from that, but you don’t know what our boys are capable of until they are given the chance to step up and be challenged at the next level.

“That is what this club international side has always been about – providing opportunity for our best club players to challenge themselves at another level. And every year players have risen to that challenge.

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“As I’ve said, guys like Lee and Matt proved that they could cope with it and have gone further, and I believe the squad we have here, if they play to the levels they are capable, can make history in this game this week.

“It is a very tall order which is why the club team has never won away from home and never won two games in a season.

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“But this group of players can do something that no Scottish club players have managed before and that is a very powerful inspiration.”