Belfast Telegraph

How I'll try to keep the pressure off before Wasps tie, reveals Ulster's Kieran Treadwell

Ulster v Wasps: European Rugby Champions Cup Pool One: Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.45pm

By Michael Sadlier

The nerves will start to gnaw at him today, which is no bad thing, but to keep them from getting an edge on his mindset, Kieran Treadwell will face them down by simply kicking back and staying chilled.

The second row, who turns a mere 22 next month, will just stay in control and, anyway, should he feel more jittery than usual, he can always call upon the experience he has already gained from his rapid rise since hooking up with Ulster in summer 2016.

Signing the England-born and raised, but Irish qualified, player - he played for Ireland at U18 level and then for England U20s before coming to the Kingspan - now seems like a pretty canny piece of business by Ulster.

Indeed, the former Harlequins academy member has already emerged as one of the province's front-line locks and was even fast-tracked onwards to making his international debut for Joe Schmidt's touring squad over the summer when he collected two caps in Japan.

But back to his rather more pressing reality, which is dealing with Wasps in what will be the dynamic second-row's fifth game in the Champions Cup since coming off the bench in last December's memorable defeat of Clermont in Belfast.

"I listen to music really," he said of gradually building up for tomorrow night's game.

"And then on the day when I get there (to the Kingspan) I try to get out on the pitch as early as I can and get my hands on the ball as early as I can to just try to feed off the atmosphere.

"I'll speak to boys like Hendy (Iain Henderson) and Christian (Leali'ifano) and talk through roles and things like that."

And just in case you might think that Treadwell can just shut out pretty much all the external factors up until kick-off, he mentions the tension that is always in the air.

"You do feel the pressure, but I feel you've a job to do and I suppose that everyone really feels that pressure," he said.

As with all the public pronouncements from the Ulster camp this week, there is no inkling that they are buying into the notion that Wasps - with a horrible four consecutive Premiership defeats behind them, along with a seriously long injury list and mere five-day turnaround for tomorrow's clash - are there for the taking and merely turning up to get turned over.

"We've got to be the best we can be to win," insisted Treadwell, who will be making his 26th appearance for Ulster.

"We just want to focus on ourselves this week and it's going to take a big squad performance."

And recognising that getting an opening win under their belts, especially so at home, is vital to the campaign, Treadwell said: "We have that winning mentality (at home) and want to go out there and keep the run of games going.

"And the buzz from the Kingspan when it's packed out for Europe is a really good place to be."

Momentum is key, and it could be seen as no mere coincidence that Ulster have lost their first game in Europe for the last three seasons and, subsequently, have failed to get out of their pool.

He will be hoping to make some serious inroads with the ball in his hands, just as was seen last week in the win over Connacht when Treadwell topped the stats in metres made by his fellow forwards while also putting in an impressive nine tackles.

The second-row's focus is to combine the dynamic parts of his game - he has slimmed down by up to 5kg since joining Ulster - with the heavy lifting which needs to be done to contribute to the overall team effort.

"Individually, I try to make myself available for those carries and imposing my game (on the opposition) as much as I can and as often as I can," he said. "But it also comes down to basics and getting them right and the best they can be and the stuff that doesn't need much talent like working back and just working hard for the team."

Which leads on to some insight regarding the work currently being done on the training paddock where new coaches Jono Gibbes, Aaron Dundon and Dwayne Peel have taken charge and had a refreshing impact on the players.

"Since the new coaches have come in there is more of an edge and more competition for places in training which is good," said Treadwell. "And I feel excited to get out on the training pitch.

"Everyone is doing it (training) with a smile on their face and there is a lot of chat and good communication within the team. Our mini-units are working well, and this week I've felt there is an extra edge, but that's what we need to really put our performance out there on the park when it matters."

He wasn't involved in the pre-season friendly with Wasps - which Ulster lost - and gained no special insight into the Coventry-based side's psyche while involved with Harlequins during his time with the club, who are also in Ulster's group.

"We just focus week on week really, though they (Harlequins) are at the back of my mind as they were my club growing up," he said of Ulster's back-to-back encounters which are to come in December.

"It's going to be weird going into the away changing rooms there but I'll be going there as an Ulsterman wanting to win."

But back to Wasps and Treadwell fairly nonchalantly ticks all the boxes regarding Ulster's mission statement.

"It's a big challenge for me, and obviously for the team, and we want to pit ourselves against the best in Europe and hopefully we'll put the performance in on Friday," he said.

"Our main focus is getting those wins, and especially in Europe you've got to win and hopefully we can get the best out of us.

"Last season I was a Test player and this season I feel like I'm still earning my stripes as I'm a young player and still learning.

"It was great to get those caps on tour but I'm an Ulster player and I've got to play week in week out even to get a look-in for the Ireland squad.

"I've know I've got to step up though," he said, referring again to the job at hand against Wasps.

"And I feel this is going to be about a big team performance rather than an individual one."

Such thoughts will keep him focused, but not so much today when the mood music will be distinctly chilled.

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