The fly-half spoke to the media earlier this week to preview tonight’s Guinness PRO14 Round 11 clash with Leinster at the RDS Arena (7.35pm kick-off, Premier Sports / eir Sport).
How is everyone in the team viewing this game against Leinster?
Anytime there’s an Inter-Pro game, there’s always an added energy to the week and the game. Obviously, Leinster have proven to be the top Province for a while now, so the opportunity to go to their place and try and beat them at any time is an exciting one. It’s us and them at the top of Conference A, so it has a pretty big bearing on the standings going forward. With the new format this year, it becomes that bit more important as well. It’s definitely added to what’s already a challenging but exciting opportunity.
Having won two Inter-Pros so far, does that give the squad a lot of confidence going to the RDS?
If you can carry some good form into an Inter-Pro game, we see that as a positive. Equally, we know the challenge is going to be a lot different this week. Leinster pose different threats to the other Provinces. As much as momentum helps us, we have to look at each opposing team as individuals.
Of course, there’s always a bit of a bounce in your step when you come in on a Monday or Tuesday after a win – especially an Inter-Pro – but we know we’ll have to put out our best performance to stand a chance of winning, so that’s what we’ll focus on doing.
How exciting is it to go and play against a fully-loaded Leinster team?
Any player would want to play against the best and as I touched on earlier, they’ve been one of the best in Europe for a long time. To go against their full-strength side will be hugely exciting; a huge challenge but one we feel we’re now in a position to go up against and put in a performance that gets a result. It will be an exciting prospect, for sure.
How will the result of this game impact Ulster’s place in Conference A?
When you play a team in your Conference, it’s an opportunity to build a gap. For us, we know Leinster have a couple of games in hand but we have a gap and will want to build on that. It’s all about going down and getting four points to push towards that final spot at the end of the season. There’s still plenty of rugby to be played after this weekend but I think it will put the side who wins this game onto the front foot going into the rest of the season.
You brought a lot of variety to your play against Munster last week – is that something you try to bring into your game more?
A player in any position is trying to be as unpredictable as they can be. If I can add a couple of strings to my bow – whether that’s my running game or whatever it may be – that’s going to help. It’s definitely something I’ve worked on and the coaches here have pushed me to improve on. I’ve always wanted to take my running game to another level and it’s just about having the confidence to do it at the right time and when it’s right for the team to do it as well. I’m trying to improve in all aspects if I can and hopefully teams look at the way I play and see an all-round game. That’s what I’m trying to work on.
Since you joined Ulster, there is more competition for places in the squad – how much has the team benefited from that?
Hugely. We’ve got so many top quality players; by saying “top quality players” that doesn’t just mean guys who have gone on to play international rugby or played 50 games. It’s even the youngsters coming through; people forget how young James Hume is. He’s out there because he’s played a hatful of games and is still a youngster. You’ve got Callum Reid and Nathan Doak coming on; all those guys are driving the standard in training; the list goes on.
It has driven us to be a more consistent team; we still have a little way to go definitely, but I think if you can drive that competitive edge in training it makes every session really matter to everyone. You’ve got to turn up, put your best foot forward and be improving; it creates a good environment for the team to move on as well. We’re in a good spot – year-on-year the depth chart has grown. We’re sitting in a position now when we turn up when the team is announced not being able to guess the team because there is a group of guys in each position that can get picked, so I think that’s only a positive for the Province.