Six Nations: 'Blood, sweat and tears' finally pay off for Munster's Dave Kilcoyne

Kilcoyne played 62 minutes of Ireland's laboured win over Italy
Kilcoyne played 62 minutes of Ireland's laboured 26-16 win over Italy

Dave Kilcoyne stands calmly in the cavernous tunnels beneath the Stadio Olimpico and introduces a healthy dose of perspective to the post-mortem of Ireland's victory over Italy.

A laboured Irish display, punctuated by poor performances from key players, left head coach Joe Schmidt struggling to put his finger on why his team seem a shadow of the side that destroyed New Zealand in November.

The drawing board will be revisited over the next fortnight before the visit of France to Dublin but, for Kilcoyne, the answer to most problems can be found through hard graft.

The 30-year-old had to wait six years for his first start in the Six Nations but his persistence was eventually rewarded on Sunday.

"It's like you're a 10-year overnight sensation - but it's not," said the Munster loose-head, who has forced his way above British and Irish Lions prop Jack McGrath in the Ireland pecking order this campaign.

"It's what you do in your pre-pre-season and onwards.

"Every Sunday evening I sit down and write down exactly what I need to get through in the week, in terms of my weights sessions, my diet and what I need to do in the team sessions, things I need to improve, areas I need to keep working at.

"You do all that every single week and it builds performances. You have a system that works for you and you just keep trying to improve and improve and improve."

'Privilege to start in the Six Nations'

Kilcoyne has had to be patient during his time in the Ireland squad
Kilcoyne has had to be patient during his time in the Ireland squad

Having made his Ireland debut against South Africa in 2012, Kilcoyne featured in four of the matches in Ireland's disappointing 2013 Six Nations campaign but in the intervening years the bulk of his 27 Test caps have come against the likes of Argentina, Japan and USA during the summer and autumn windows.

He had to bide his time behind McGrath and Cian Healy before the hard work eventually paid off.

"It's such a privilege to get a start in the Six Nations, they don't come around that often," he added.

"A lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into that and a lot of work. I was really keen to put in a good performance."

Personal positives in win that 'felt like a loss'

Ten bruising carries for 26 metres and 10 punishing tackles in just over an hour on the pitch in Rome certainly left Kilcoyne with plenty of personal positives, but the overall team performance cannot be ignored.

Five line-outs lost, nine penalties conceded and a litany of handling errors is not the kind of display that Irish supporters have become accustomed to seeing under Schmidt.

Perhaps the squad is lacking in belief at the moment?

"I wouldn't say confidence is low," Kilcoyne responded.

"We're disappointed in that performance but we've still got five points from it so you've got to take that and we're still in the competition but the demeanour in the dressing room afterwards was quite down and it almost felt like a loss.

"I suppose that's the standards that are set inside in this team but to a degree there are areas we need to address.

"I don't think it's a confidence thing, I think it's a cohesive thing in not nailing last passes for whatever reason and just not capitalising when we have a team on the edge."

Kilcoyne was replaced by Jack McGrath for the final 18 minutes in Rome
Kilcoyne was replaced by Jack McGrath for the final 18 minutes in Rome

'We need to keep delivering high standards'

The players set their standards in the dressing room but their performances over the past 18 months have also set expectations among supporters.

But Kilcoyne dismisses the notion that the team is starting to buckle under the pressure of that expectancy.

"That's the standard that's been set," he continued.

"Fortunately or unfortunately that's the way it is. They won the Grand Slam and beat New Zealand, they've won a few Six Nations so the bar is set right at the very top.

"It's up to everyone in the system to keep driving it on and keep delivering those high standards. That's the way it is now."