‘Rugby’s always been my number one’ – Dane looks to take chance in Italy

KATHRYN DANE, LIKE most scrum-halves, admits to being obsessed with the rugby ball.

“I’m really OCD about it,” says the Ireland Women international, who makes her first start against Italy tomorrow. “I just love holding a rugby ball, I love the feeling.”

Walking onto the pitch for training, Dane needs to have a rugby ball in her hands. On the sidelines, as she watches her brother playing, she’ll be there passing a ball with her dad, David, who played hooker for Ulster Clubs.

Dane will make her first start for Ireland tomorrow against Italy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Every spare minute, a rugby ball and an opportunity to improve her comfort in catching and passing – the core duty of her position.

The love of the oval ball started early for Dane, who took up rugby at U8 level with Enniskillen RFC, playing with the boys’ teams up to U12s, when she took a bit of a break and focused on soccer.

She was equally talented there, playing centre midfield or right back for Northern Ireland up to U19 level. There was hockey – she was on the first team at school in Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar – and even some golf thrown into the mix.

But, having resumed rugby in school and with her club, playing alongside now-fellow Ireland Women international Claire Boles, it was the oval ball that won out in the end.

“It was tough actually,” says 22-year-old Dane of deciding to pursue rugby. “It was between going to Finland with the Northern Ireland U19s or going with the Ireland U18 7s team to Sweden for the European Games.

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“Rugby’s always been my number one. I enjoy watching rugby more than soccer, so it was probably more natural.”

Dane advanced into the Ulster 15-a-side senior team, winning the Ulster Women’s Player of the Year award in her first year at that level. 

A move to Dublin to take up a scholarship studying Physiotherapy in Trinity meant a shift of clubs and Dane is now enjoying being part of Old Belvedere club, where she is affectionately nicknamed ‘Dave’ and has some ideal mentors.

Dane makes a tackle in Belvo colours. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“Girls like Nora Stapleton, Jenny Murphy and Maz O’Reilly, they’re great,” says Dane. “Having Nora as my 10 is a great help and they’re always pushing me on to be better.

“Nora’s game management, she’s such a cool and composed player on the pitch, so that’s really taught me loads. With the likes of Jenny and Maz, they’re so good at their individual roles on the pitch, so that’s what I’ve taken from it.”

Dane made her senior Ireland debut off the bench in the defeat to England three weekends ago.

“It was incredible,” she says. “I’d never expected it to be so good, all the support from my family and everybody back home in Enniskillen.

“The support was overwhelming and then from college as well, Trinity have been really helpful towards me and I’ve got loads of support from the Old Belvedere.”

Juggling her final year of Physiotherapy with training has been a challenge but Dane is a personification of the old adage that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person.

She’s enjoying working with Ireland head coach Adam Griggs, a New Zealand native who was a scrum-half with Canterbury, Tasman Makos, Leinster A and Lansdowne in his playing days. 

“He’s an excellent mentor for myself and my skills. He’s really approachable and the sessions are really fun actually, really enjoyable and very skills-based, which I love.

Dane has become a key player for Ulster. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I love that fast-paced game that the All Blacks would play. Players like Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara, I love that open style of rugby.

“Their passing is effortless and their box kicks. I suppose Aaron Smith is notorious for his sniping, he can find a gap out of nothing and change the game. Counter-attack and everything, he’s a genius.

“I really enjoy watching Super Rugby and NFL and things like that, so I do try to take as much as I can from it.”

Dane now hopes to take her starting chance against Italy in Parma tomorrow, with Griggs having backed her to make an impression in the nine shirt.

For Ireland, backing up their victory over Scotland last time out is crucial.

“It was great to get that win after the loss against England, that was very disappointing,” says Dane.

“But we regrouped really well and had positive vibes leading up to Scotland and it was great. We played a lot more expansive rugby despite the horrible conditions. What a feeling, I can’t wait to play Italy now and hopefully keep that winning streak going.”

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