Olding goes centre stage for Ireland


Stuart Olding prepared for his first Ireland cap

@AdamRedmond reports from Houston, Texas


IT HAS been quite a season for Stuart Olding and one that will finish with a flourish as he earns his first cap for Ireland tomorrow night.

The 20-year-old Ulster player never expected to be in the reckoning for senior honours so early in his career, but having finished the season "like a train" according to interim head coach Les Kiss, he is aiming to take his chance.
"I was over the moon when I heard from Les that I was going to start. A start is great, even the bench would have been fantastic. I’m delighted, it will be in front of my parents as well," said Olding, who had much less impressive plans at the start of the campaign.
"At the start of the season I was just preparing for the Under 20 interpros and hoping to go to the Junior World Cup. It has been a big year for myself and I’m hoping to make the most of the opportunity."
Olding's first start for Ulster came this season at out half in a rare home defeat to Ospreys back in February, but since then he has switched to inside centre after injuries and Ireland call-ups for Paddy Wallace and Luke Marshall, respectively, and hasn't looked back.
For a player who touched down four times during Ulster's run to the RaboDirect PRO12 final Olding has looked quite at home amongst star performers such as Ruan Pienaar, Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe, but he admitted that it hasn't necessarily felt so easy. 
"My first ever start was against the Ospreys after Christmas, I was quite nervous before that but when my second and third games came along I really just got into the groove of it and became a lot more comfortable playing and the players around me became more comfortable too."
Olding is among a clutch of young players now that are capable of playing at either 10 or 12 and a generation of New Zealand style 'second five eighths' are becoming prominent in the cases of Ian Madigan, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, JJ Hanrahan and Olding himself.
The player himself is not too worried about what number is on his shirt right now, just as long as he gets to wear one.
"My first start was at 10 against the Ospreys but I've played a lot at 12. Everybody's always asking me, but when I'm at 12 I'm happy there and at 10 I'm just as happy because I really enjoy both positions. At the minute it's just about experience and getting out there on the pitch and trying to take as much as i can from each game but hopefully in the next couple of years I'll be able to settle on a position," he said.
As for the second playmaker concept, it's one that he fully subscribes to. "I think it's good, we understand each other playing along with one another at 10 and 12. I know Paddy's played there and between myself and Paddy we really know the ins and outs of 10 and 12 so it's really just an extra set of ears and eyes and another playmaker out there on the pitch. I like playing in that role.
"I'm comfortable getting the ball at first receiver because I've played there a lot and getting the ball from 9, playing a bit and having our eyes open to the opportunities."
However, with such inexperience in the Ireland team, it is more than likely that USA will look to physically overpower and intimidate younger, slightly lighter players such as Madigan and Olding, but the Ulster man is sure they are up to the task.
"Yeah, I think so, but as we've proven across the season so far, all of the [Irish] midfield players have had good seasons in their own rights and really held their own against some bigger guys, internationals and even British and Irish Lions. We've held up really well and we just need to keep doing what we're doing."

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