Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's Bronson Ross all fired-up after taste of the big time

By Michael Sadlier

It was a strange feeling really. There was clearly no shelter to be found from the red-shirted storm which had raged at Stade Felix Mayol and yet he had ample reason to feel that those who had maybe doubted him were now thinking again.

After all, tight-head prop Bronson Ross had made his first competitive start for Ulster on what could hardly have been a more challenging occasion, in the raucously partisan atmosphere that bubbled and boiled at Toulon's home ground last Saturday, and had come through the experience in reasonably good shape.

And the much-travelled 29-year-old was only making his 10th appearance for his adopted province since arriving for pre-season in summer 2013 with nine of those games coming since September, a neck injury sidelining him for most of the last campaign.

Prior to the game on the shores of the Mediterranean it had been feared that his lack of experience, when compared to close on a century of appearances put in by Ireland international Declan Fitzpatrick, would ensure the New Zealand-born and Irish-qualified Ross would be warming the bench again after Wiehahn Herbst's hamstring had ruled him out of contention.

But, on the contrary, it was Fitzpatrick - who, in fairness, was left out for the recent trip to Treviso with Ross the preferred back-up for Herbst - on the sidelines with Ross being handed a chance on what looked as if it might be an occasion most would have preferred to skip.

Instead the native of Oamaru, in New Zealand's South Island, put in a decent enough shift in highly trying circumstances.

The scrums were solid and he survived the challenge from opposite number Xavier Chiocci while Ross also had an impact in the loose with a strong carry in the lead up to Paddy Jackson's 11th minute try.

"We 'set' pretty well, the scrum and maul has been a bit of a weapon for us this season and we fought hard and did well in the hit," he said, before putting it all in perspective.

"It wasn't a great day at the office for us on Saturday.

"I definitely noticed after a few minutes the intensity was a level up and when they got their try within a few minutes we really had to try to get the line speed up and cut down the space for them," said Ross, whose mother hails originally from Belfast.

"But those are obviously the big games that you want to play in when you are doing hard yards in the pre-season and you are working your way up.

"They are the games that you imagine playing in so it was great to get my first start on such a big occasion in Toulon," added Ross, who got 51 minutes out on the park before being called ashore for Fitzpatrick with the score sitting at 34-10 to the hosts.

Even though the hurt of defeat was intense, the journey he had made to get to the point of playing in Europe's premier club competition was astonishing since heading to Europe at age 22 and having less than spectacular stints with Boroughmuir in Scotland, Guernica in Spain and Coventry.

Ross's first season in Belfast was wiped out due to a neck injury which required surgery after Ulster took a punt on him with a development contract two years ago.

"Yes, last season was definitely very tough as I got four minutes of first team game time (against Treviso in September 2013) and then I hurt my neck playing for the Ravens," he said.

"So it was really tough but you have got to keep your chin up and just keep chipping away and taking those opportunities when they come.

"I am enjoying my time here and it's a good place to improve your rugby and with my mum being from Belfast it's almost like playing for my second home which is nice."

Pat Lam will continue as Connacht coach until at least 2018 after signing a new three-year contract.

The former Samao captain, who won the Heineken Cup with Northampton and coached Auckland Blues, succeeded Eric Elwood at the Pro12 club in 2013.

Ross factfile:

Name: Bronson Ross

Position: Tight-head prop

Date of birth: September 16, 1985

Place of birth: Oamaru, New Zealand but is Irish-qualified through his mother, who is originally from Belfast.

Previous clubs: Dunedin, Boroughmuir (Scotland), Guernica (Spain) and Coventry.

Joined Ulster in 2013 and has made 10 appearances to date.

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