Belfast Telegraph

Callum Black produces to nail down a starting Ulster place

By Michael Sadlier

Revisiting the memory leaves him slightly embarrassed, after all props aren't really renowned for making vital steals in the dying minutes which help win games.

But Callum Black was in the right place at the right time in last month's frantic denouement at Edinburgh when 13-man Ulster gritted their teeth and hung on to win.

With only about four minutes to play and the Scots picking and jamming their way to the line a try seemed inevitable. But then, quite unexpectedly, the ball ended up on the deck, and in a visible position, allowing Black to legally pounce and the danger to be cleared.

It was a huge moment and Black was given the back-slapping treatment by his grateful team-mates for a reason other than the solid scrummaging he has brought to the side this season to largely keep Andy Warwick behind him in becoming Ulster's regular starter at loose-head prop.

"Obviously we were kind of under the cosh with two men down," the 29-year-old recalls.

"We knew they (Edinburgh) were going to come at us from that particular lineout. They were picking and going and at a ruck I was on a guard position and the ball kind of squirted out.

"So it's panic stations really and I dived on it as soon as I could and got it back to Ru (Ruan Pienaar) so he was able to put his boot to it.

"It was good as it showed the character of the squad that we were able to batter it out with two men down. We took confidence from that," he says of a moment he may yet dine out on should Ulster manage to actually go on to claim this season's PRO12 title.

Black has also taken confidence from starting 12 of Ulster's last 14 games and his performances have earned him a three-year contract extension which has further boosted his belief that he is heading in the right direction.

"It was good to get the contract sorted and know where I am for the next three years," he says.

"This is my fourth season here now and I'm settled and enjoying it. It is good to get a run of starts where I can try to find a bit of form and push on and improve."

Black readily admits that having the promising Warwick breathing down his neck has actually helped lift his own game and that featuring for Emerging Ireland, who triumphed in last summer's Nations Cup in Romania, was also a confidence-booster.

"It's healthy competition and me and Andy are good mates and we help each other out," Black says. "But at the start of the year Andy was getting picked in front of me and I knew I had to up my game and I think the competition just makes you a better player.

"I have to keep on my toes because if I'm not performing well he is ready to slot straight into the team."

As for Sunday's game at the Dragons, he is just hoping that another of his big steals is not required again in a rearguard finish.

He adds: "They (the Dragons) thrive on being underestimated. The way we are now, though, we don't underestimate anyone."

With that mentality, Ulster look well primed for Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph

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