‘It’s five great games to be involved in’ – Craig Casey living boyhood ‘dream’ as he prepares for New Zealand tests

Craig Casey was 13 when Ireland last toured New Zealand in 2012. It’s fair to say he has come a long way since.

ack then, Casey could only dream of becoming an Ireland international, but having made that a reality over the last couple of years, his sights are now set on making a big impression in New Zealand.

Like many of his fellow young team-mates, this is all very new for Casey, as he gets his first taste of life in New Zealand.

The jet lag has eased and after a couple of training sessions, including an intense hit out at North Harbour Stadium today, Casey is gearing up to face the Maori All Blacks on Wednesday.

“Oh it’s great,” Casey said.

“Obviously it has been ten years since we have been down here, I was actually in about sixth class watching those Tests. It’s great to be here now, a dream come true to be down in New Zealand. It’s always a place you want to come to when you’re growing up watching rugby.

“Other than the World Cup, it’s probably the pinnacle of international rugby, to be down here playing in New Zealand.

“The squad is unbelievable, it’s been great to be in here for the last two years. We are looking forward to the Tests now.”

Andy Farrell is set to manage his squad accordingly in the week ahead, with the Maori game followed by the first Test at Eden Park next Saturday.

Casey is likely to feature against the Maori All Blacks, as he looks to lay down an early marker.

“It’s massive, like I said, it’s something you dream of when you’re younger,” the Munster scrum-half continued.

“I remember watching the Lions Series in 2005 and you want to be down in New Zealand playing the Maori All Blacks.

“I was only six but it’s probably my earliest international rugby memory – watching the Lions against the All Blacks and Maori All Blacks.

“It’s definitely intense and obviously not what the Lions wanted, but hopefully we can change that this year.

“It’s class, you just see how much it means to New Zealand people. Even walking around the streets here, I knew rugby was absolutely massive and coming down I was intrigued by that and wanted to learn a bit more about it.

“But when you are walking down the street and everyone is stopping you wishing you well and saying ‘We are glad that you’re here for the Tests’ – you see how rugby-mad the country is. It’s class, it’s exactly where you want to be as a rugby player.”

Casey isn’t concerned by the fact that Ireland come into this five-game tour on the back of a long season, as the Limerick native reckons that could stand to his side.

“It goes out the window, it’s all to play for,” he insisted.

“We are battle-hardened I suppose, from the season. Obviously it has been a long season but a fresh new challenge down here.

“It was a tough end to the season with Munster definitely, but I think you come into international camp as a fresh start and try to build on the Six Nations. It’s class.

“We were supposed to go on tour last year and that was cancelled, so even to get away on tour is a massive step for every international team – for bonding, actually seeing what you’re about and seeing what levels you can take it to.

“So, to be down in the pinnacle of international rugby and test yourself and bond as a group is brilliant.”

Although he hasn’t worked under any Kiwi coaches, Casey (23) hailed the influence of former All Black scrum-half Alby Mathewson, who spent the 2018-19 season with Munster.

“I learned a lot from him as a scrum-half, he taught me lots. I have a lot of thanks to give to him, Casey said.

“Watching him at training every day, learning off him and then watching him at weekends as well, knowing exactly what way he was prepped, that was good. He’s probably the one Kiwi person I worked under that gave me a lot of help.”

With a target on their backs following Ireland’s win over the All Blacks last November, Casey believes his side are ready for the pressure of what’s to come over the next three weeks.

“Obviously we want to win the Test matches and the Maori All Black games, they’re huge games,” he added.

“Coming down to New Zealand is an entirely different challenge than playing them at the Aviva, we have touched on that 100pc, but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to and relishing. It’s five great games to be involved in and we can’t wait.”

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