It’s Brady crunch time
As a man accustomed to being in the middle of what he calls “the skulduggery of the front row”, Ulster’s Nigel Brady knows all about standing his ground.
He takes some shifting.
He has slogged it out against numerous opponents. In-house, he has fended off the formidable challenge mounted by Andi Kyriacou for the hooker’s jersey.
But Brady knows his next battle is one he is unlikely to win outright.
Rory Best’s remarkable recovery from neck surgery means only one thing at this stage — playing second fiddle to the Irish international and grabbing whatever opportunities come along.
But by signing a new two-year contract extension, Brady has made it plain that he will continue to fight.
“End of contract time presents all sorts of scenarios, but I just enjoy playing for Ulster and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be,” he says. “So I’m delighted to have signed.”
Regarding Best’s return he goes on: “Obviously that’s going to be a tussle. Rory’s been a front runner in that position for some time and he’s currently playing for Ireland so probably that has a bearing.
“I’m just going to have to keep my head down, work hard and try to play as well as possible when I’m given an opportunity.”
With Best and fellow-hero of Twickenham, Stephen Ferris, absent from an otherwise full-strength Ulster side for tonight’s Magners League clash against second-bottom Scarlets in Llanelli, this is one of those opportunities to which Brady alludes.
Tonight he faces 16st 12lbs Ken Owens, who starts as Scarlets hooker. The replacement is number one Wales number two, Matthew Rees. He’s 17st 3lbs.
Brady is 15st 5lbs so he doesn’t expect this evening’s shift to be anything other than hard work.
“It’s going to be another very tough match. They’re a good side, so although they’ve lost a few they will be keen to bounce back, especially with them being at home,” he reckons.
“But we’re focused and we’re going over there looking to get a win.”
His line-out throwing this season has been top notch.
It is a skill on which he has worked long and hard, often on his own.
“It’s a key factor. If you can’t throw darts it’s going to be very difficult to get picked as a hooker,” he points out.
“It’s something I have to concentrate on massively. But it’s also a team effort because there’s so much going on in a line-out with call systems and lifts and movement.”
A lot of squad time is spent perfecting those things with drills, paddock sessions and much video analysis of the opposition setpiece.
In addition, Brady “throws balls at poles and posts”.
“It’s very time-consuming but it’s a key part of the game. If it isn’t right it won’t be too long before opponents start exploiting it,” he says.
“There really only are two closed skills in rugby — place-kicking and throwing into the line-out. The rest are all just functional aspects of the game.
“Throwing into the line-out is very specialised and as a hooker you enjoy being the only one to do that.”
He thoroughly enjoys scrummaging, too, though with Tom Court and BJ Botha either side of him, that’s hardly surprising.
“The scrum has been an Ulster strength this season,” he beams.
“But while it starts with the front row, the scrum is about the whole pack and a winning mentality. You have to keep working at it. Opponents watch everything and if they spot a weakness they’ll target it.”
He is relishing Ulster’s ambitious approach these days and with the side intent on playing a more exciting, open brand of rugby that means being a member of a very fit, mobile pack.
“Yes, we’re getting around a lot more nowadays and we’re getting our hands on the ball,” Brady says.
“Believe it or not, even front row forwards enjoy that.”