Published: Wednesday, 1st February, 2012 5:30pm
Speaking in Athlone last week, Ireland U20 rugby coach Mike Ruddock claimed that players with experience from last year's squad would play a key role in the 2012 Six Nations championship. One of the players who falls into that category is Athlone's Daniel Qualter.
The towering Buccaneers lock believes last year's involvement will stand to him as the Ireland U20s prepare for their Six Nations opener against Wales at Dubarry Park, Athlone, this Friday night (kick-off: 7.05pm)
"Even in the warm up games, I feel I'm able to cope with the pressure a bit more. I'm hoping that the lads can feed off my experience and I'll give them as much advice as possible," Qualter told the 'Westmeath Independent'.
"The atmosphere in Athlone is always amazing - you might get a few questions from the other lads about 'what's it like in a big situation?'. You just try to give them an insight into what it's like, and at the same time you're trying to become a better player."
Playing a competitive international fixture in his home town is something Qualter really cherishes.
"My first cap last year, I remember there was a few tears running onto the pitch. It's great for family and friends, to be able to come over the bridge and look at me playing a game of (international) rugby," said the native of Clonown Road, Athlone.
Qualter has been named in the Ireland team in the second row, and he is joined by fellow Buccaneers player Shane Layden, who has been selected at full-back.
Layden sustained a broken finger when playing for Buccs against Garryowen recently, but the Carrick-on-Shannon native has recovered sufficiently to take his place in the team. Conor Gilsenan from Mullingar has been named in the starting XV at blind side flanker.
Another Buccaneers player, Conor Finn, was chosen in the initial 24-man panel, but he has missed out on a place in the 23-strong squad for match night.
Qualter is now firmly established with Buccaneers and he feels competing at AIL level has improved him as a player.
"Being involved with the Connacht 'A' team has brought me along greatly as well. Buccs have been going well this season and hopefully they'll keep that form going while I'm away with the Six Nations," he said.
Looking ahead to the U20 championship, Qualter said: "Obviously France and England are going to be a big test away from home. But as we found out last year, every game in the Six Nations is a very tough game. We'll have Italy, Scotland and Wales coming here and they'll throw the kitchen sink at us, play a bit of rugby and try to sneak a win away, and we'll be trying to win our away games as well.
"It's all about getting your assessment done early in the week, doing your video work, and hopefully trying to break them down."
Ireland's win ratio in Athlone has been quite impressive in the U20 Six Nations Championship,
"It has become a bit of fortress for Irish U20 rugby," Qualter remarked. "People coming down on a Friday night, they almost expect Ireland to win and that's the type of mentality we've built up in the squad. We want a winning atmosphere and we want to try to bring that into our games."
A son of former Westmeath hurling manager and current Roscommon boss Seamus Qualter, Daniel said his long term goal is to secure a place in the Connacht senior squad.
"Hopefully I'll be knocking on Eric Elwood's door maybe in a year or two, I don't think I'm quite there yet. I've a bit of development to do and I know that myself. The experience with the Connacht As, the Buccaneers seniors and the Ireland U20s is standing to me greatly and hopefully I'll keep pushing forward and try to get into the Connacht senior squad for a Heineken Cup game in the future."
Working with Mike Ruddock - a man who has guided Wales to a Six Nations Grand Slam at senior level - will certainly do Qualter's rugby development no harm at all.
"Even in the first couple of months that I was involved with him last year, I learned so much off him," said Daniel. "He's very easy to get on with and a great coach. Winning the senior Six Nations title says it all really. He's a great lad and I'm looking forward to working with him again this year."
Ireland U20 Team v Wales
15. Shane Layden (Buccaneers/Connacht); 14. Barry Daly (UCD/Leinster), 13. Foster Horan (Lansdowne/Leinster), 12. JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians/Munster), 11. Sam Coghlan Murray (UCD/Leinster); 10. Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster) (capt), 9. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht); 1. Kyle McCall (Ballynahinch/Ulster), 2. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), 3. Peter Reilly (Lansdowne/Leinster)
4. Iain Henderson (Queen's University/Ulster), 5. Daniel Qualter (Buccaneers/Connacht); 6. Conor Gilsenan (UCD/Leinster), 7. Aaron Conneely (Corinthians/Connacht), 8. Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster).
Replacements: 16. Des Merrey (Clontarf/Leinster), 17. James Rael (Garryowen/Munster), 18. Jake Cawley (Old Belvedere/Leinster), 19. Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Leinster), 20. Jordan Coghlan (UCD/Leinster), 21. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster), 22. Cathal Marsh (Dublin University/Leinster), 23. Christopher Farrell (Dungannon/Ulster)