Irish Rugby debutant Oli Jager reflects on emotional journey to first cap

Jager took to the field for the first time for Ireland in their 31-7 win against Wales in the Six Nations last weekend

Oli Jager crouching on the rugby field wearing an Ireland jersey and a white headband
Ireland's Oli Jager (centre) during the Guinness Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. PICTURE: Brian Lawless/PA Wire. (Brian Lawless/Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

Oli Jager graced the field in a green jersey against Wales on Saturday for the first time since his return home after spending seven years in New Zealand playing for Canterbury and Crusaders.

The prop earned his spot on Andy Farrell’s squad after impressing for Munster and admits he felt a flood of emotion at finally making his Ireland bow.

“It’s a hard thing to put into words,” said Jager, who came on to replace Tadhg Furlong in the second half of the Wales victory.

“Obviously proud. It’s such a wonderful feeling to get that first cap and against such a great team in Wales and in the Six Nations too.

“I have no words to describe it. I’m over the moon.”

Jager had had a nervous week building up to the game but performed well and deputised for Furlong seamlessly.

“Yeah, I had been just putting it off for the whole week, just playing it down so I don’t get too nervous before the game,” said Jager.

“I felt it when the anthems came on and I just managed to push it back down. After the game then I was just in all sorts.”

“I didn’t shed a tear but I definitely got a bit more emotional.”

Given the journey Jager has had to get to this point, who could blame him for getting a little misty-eyed over finally representing the country of his birth?

Jager said: “Yeah, it’s definitely the journey I’ve been on and going from not getting into the academy when I came out of school to going to New Zealand to making the Crusaders academy, playing for Crusaders and eventually building up a reputation enough to come home.

“It all feels full circle.”

The tighthead prop only signed for Munster last November and has had a long journey to get to the hallowed halls of Landsdowne Road.

Speaking about Jager’s journey to the pinnacle of Irish rugby, Farrell said: “It’s been a tough week for him, it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride, coming over here and being away from his wife...she’s only been over for two weeks and in those two weeks, we’ve had him in camp and out of camp.

“They’ve not had the dogs they had to go over to London to pick the dogs up out of quarantine, his wife’s done that on her own.”

Jager was luckily able to celebrate with some family members who were in attendance.

“My mam is here. It’s fantastic. It’s a really special occasion for her to be here and one of my brothers is here too,” the Munster forward said.

“It’s awesome to have some family. My uncles are all in the stands as well somewhere. I didn’t see them cos there were a few people who all looked the same,” he chuckled.

“They were there somewhere.”

Jager shared the opinion that it has been somewhat of an accelerated jump.

He said: “It definitely crossed my mind because this has been a whirlwind. I think I’ve spent more time in hotels than I have in my own house but it’s been fantastic. I wouldn’t change anything for the world.

“Maybe it’s better to be thrown into the deep end to see if you sink or swim because if you let it go it can go on too long and things just get built up and frustration builds or whatever.

“It’s been fast but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

It may seem like the fairytale ending of the story for Jager but there was a point when he thought the book had closed on him returning to Ireland during his career.

He said: “There probably was a point where I was thinking I should have come home earlier and I should have done other things differently.

“It definitely came to a point where I thought the boat had sailed and I would just have to live with that.

“Thankfully that wasn’t the case.”

Munster rugby played a huge part in fulfilling Jager’s fantasy he said, mentioning the importance of being in Ireland and visible to the coaches in big games such as the St Stephen’s Day game with Leinster and Champions Cup ties.

Jager paid tribute to his former Kiwi side Crusaders for preparing him for this step.

He said: “Don’t get me wrong, Crusaders are a really high level as well and I was able to show Andy and Fogs and Paul [O’Connell] that I could play at a higher level when I was playing for them.

“That helped me with the transition. I always believed I could do something and thankfully it came.”

Having missed the comforts of home, the returned ex-pat said that he would be celebrating his achievement with a pint of Guinness and a packet of Tayto, and little would think that there is a more Irish response than that, barman, get this man a pint of plain...