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Rookie Scholes happy to be in the thick of it

By Jonathan Bradley

Having started on the bench in Ulster's famous win over Toulouse last weekend, Rory Scholes could hardly have envisaged having quite such an eventful afternoon at the Stade Ernest Wallon.

The 22-year-old was called into action in the 12th minute thanks to Craig Gilroy's broken eye socket and was shortly in the thick of the action.

When Paddy Jackson was tackled from behind long after the whistle by Florian Fritz it was Scholes who was first on the scene to deliver some retribution towards the French centre.

And with Jackson in the bin, Scholes was front and centre again when he crossed the whitewash for what would have been one of the province's greatest tries - a charge led from deep inside their own territory that went the length and breadth of the pitch before the wing was put away in the corner - only to be ruled out for a forward pass in the build-up.

While the score that never was would have been the cherry on top of a memorable afternoon, Scholes still revelled in the experience of his first extended outing in European competition after making his bow in the competition a week prior with a two-minute cameo.

"It would have been great but it was my first couple of games in the Champions Cup so it was just awesome personally anyway," he said.

"The atmosphere around the thing is completely different. There's a massive buzz. I was just so happy to be involved.

"Now it just makes you want to be involved in these Champions Cup games even more.

"It's a bit strange when you're off the bench so soon. You don't have any time to think about it so you're almost a bit more relaxed.

"You've to be ready at any time anyway on the bench and to get 65-70 minutes of game-time was good obviously."

At the suggestion that Fritz was now the last player he'd be sending a Christmas card, the 2011 Schools' Cup winner with Campbell College laughed.

"Sometimes you get things like that, especially when it comes to the atmosphere of a big Champions Cup game," he said. "You have to stick up for your team-mates sometimes. Especially the gingers like Paddy, we have to stick together!

"It's all on the pitch and that's where it stays. It's all grand after the whistle."

With Gilroy's latest injury seeing him join the likes of Tommy Bowe and Pete Nelson on the sidelines, Ulster's back-three options have been weakened as the season has progressed but Scholes has said he would love to follow the recent examples of Kyle McCall, Stuart McCloskey and Alan O'Connor by seizing his opportunity in the team.

Set for an extended run in the side, the Belfast Harlequin says that under Les Kiss it's encouraging to see form from the team's youngsters rewarded.

"Les says if you get an opportunity take it and make sure he can't not pick you again," he said.

"Those boys have done that and I'm just trying to do the same. Any time I play I just want to do myself proud and do the team proud."

For Scholes, he has done just that in recent weeks having taken his chance against Edinburgh in the last Pro12 fixture.

Linking up well with Louis Ludik, Scholes scored his second senior try and the fortitude shown in playing through a knock when Ulster had already lost three starters to injury was highlighted by Kiss in his post-match interview.

"Edinburgh was a good game," said Scholes.

"I got some ball and managed to get the score which was great. That's all I want to do, play here in front of the fans and score tries.

"There was no way I was coming off. It wasn't a concussion, I wouldn't have had a choice then, it was just a knock but I was grand.

"You'd have to drag most of the boys off the pitch in fairness but especially when you don't start all the time.

"If I can stay fit and put in the performances then hopefully I can get picked and stay picked. You just hope to get some ball and it's the chance to show what you can do."

While Scholes spent at least the early part of yesterday training with his teammates, the youngster was all too glad to forgo his Christmas dinner for a start against Connacht today.

"It's strange this time of year," he said.

"Sport is a wee bit different to everything else, the football stays on and the rugby stays on.

"It's not that we can't enjoy Christmas, we still get a wee bit of time with the family and you wouldn't change it, would you?

"You want to play in these big interpros around Christmas, they're the games you want to be involved in. Everyone looks forward to it.

"Connacht are going very well. We're a bit behind them but it's tight at the top and we want to keep it that way.

"We know we've got to win as many as possible, there can't be any when we take our eye off the ball.

"It's a big game for us to bridge that gap and there's no change to the mentality.

"It's foot to the pedal the whole way.

"Connacht away is a big game, Munster in front of our own fans the week after is the same.

"It's two massive games. We have to take the momentum from Toulouse but not dwell on it.

"We have to look forward now, that's done and dusted."

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