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Neil McComb is determined to ease Ulster's injury woe

By Jonathan Bradley

Standing at an imposing 6ft 7in tall, Neil McComb has never had any problems standing out from the crowd and, as one of a host of locks looking to stake a claim for inclusion in Ulster's squad over the coming weeks, he will be looking to do just that when Les Kiss' men take on Zebre this weekend.

With Iain Henderson's hip surgery ruling him out for the next few months, Ulster were dealt another blow when Ireland international Dan Tuohy suffered a broken right arm against Cardiff on Friday night.

The surgery required, on the same arm he fractured against Wales during the Six Nations last season, is expected to keep the 29-year-old out of action for 12 weeks.

While Kiss does have the option of moving Robbie Diack from flanker to lock, that would appear to leave Ulster bereft of backrow options and so it would seem that McComb, Lewis Stevenson and perhaps even academy products Alan O'Connor, who appeared in both pre-season contests, John Donnan and James Simpson will fight it out for playing time.

The circumstances may be less than ideal but 31-year-old McComb, who replaced Tuohy at the Arms Park last week, is excited by the increased opportunities set to come his way.

"It was great to come on last week even if it was unfortunate the way it came about with Dan having to go off," said the man who captained Campbell College to the Schools' Cup back in 2002.

"It's a big loss because he has been playing well this year, even being our top try-scorer so far, but it's part of the game.

"It's a huge disappointment for him and for Ulster but we have got the depth here.

"We've got players like myself and Lewis Stevenson, as well as the academy boys coming in, and it's time for one of us to put our hands up and say that we're here to play."

Patience has never been a virtue lacked by the Belfast Harlequins man – upon finishing school McComb eschewed development contracts in order to study psychology at Dundee University – but having made his Ulster debut five years ago this month, the former Ireland U21 international wants to now finally cement a starting spot.

"You have to take each game as it comes but it's all about being on the pitch and doing your talking there. When you get the opportunity to play for Ulster you have to take it.

"For me it's an opportunity to put my hand up and say to the coaches that I'm not here to sit in the background, I'm here to play rugby."

Despite the scarcity of such occasions in recent seasons, McComb is no stranger to Italian opposition – five of his eight appearances last year came against either Zebre or Treviso – and he knows just what to expect at the Stadio XXV Aprile on Saturday.

"We know what they're about, especially at home. They're a physical side and in the last couple of years the games between us haven't had much in them."

Despite Zebre having yet to take a point from three contests this season, including a 33-13 loss to Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium two weeks ago, McComb expects a different proposition this time around.

"I think they play that kind of younger side away and when they go back that's when you see the international names.

"We know how they're playing but they'll throw in something new and we must prepare for that kind of surprise."

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