Belfast Telegraph

Simpson is hungry for more despite losing debut

By Michael Sadlier

The walk from the changing room is a short one - out the door and then through another one which takes you round a bend, up a level and into a space where the media await.

It's a stroll which has almost always been a trudge for Ulster players and coaches and a downbeat Les Kiss had just been there and back when Jonny 'Moe' Simpson made his way along the route.

For the 26-year-old prop, though, everything was new and the short trip up to the room wasn't such a bind.

After all, the clash against Leinster had been his debut appearance for the senior side yet the joy and pride of his first Ulster cap had still been coloured by a humbling but not unexpected 22-7 defeat.

"It was a proud moment for me and something I have always dreamed of," the former Banbridge Academy pupil said of what was also his debut facing the media.

"It wasn't an ideal start, but I enjoyed every minute and it was great to get out in front of a packed RDS crowd."

Already, though, the focus has shifted to the next game when Ulster are on their travels again, this time to the Scarlets who are now in fourth while Ulster sit in sixth, four points behind but with a game in hand.

"We'll regather, regroup and go again," said the prop who can play both sides of the scrum.

And now with Rodney Ah You looking as if he is going to be the latest No.3 to be sidelined, Simpson could well be winning quite a few more Ulster caps with the returning Ross Kane likely to be the only other fit tight-head - Andy Warwick can cover No.3 but may be needed at loose-head - for the crucial-looking journey to the Scarlets.

"Here's hoping," was Simpson's reply to more involvement coming his way.

"I'll take any game time I can get and as many minutes as I can get."

Though Ulster's changing room could hardly have been the greatest environment to be in on Saturday evening, Kiss was still intent on marking Simpson's elevation to the senior ranks.

Simpson explained: "He (Kiss) just stood up in the changing room afterwards and said, 'congratulations on your first cap I thought you did well'.

"I'll take great pleasure in that and I'm happy with that. I just tried to do my team-mates proud and hopefully I did that."

It was seven minutes into the second half at the RDS when Ah You limped off and Simpson got his Ulster debut at tight-head prop.

Even though the game was gone as his team-mates were trailing 22-0, he knew that it was now all about whether he survived or perished.

Ulster's injury crisis at tight-head prop - with Wiehahn Herbst, Ricky Lutton and Kane all currently crocked - meant that Simpson was on the team bus to Dublin in the full knowledge that while he is more accustomed to getting game time at Ballynahinch or with Ulster 'A', that he just might end up scrummaging against Ireland's first choice loose-head Jack McGrath.

"I watch him playing for Ireland every game and I am always impressed by him and he is a fantastic player," said Simpson, who is on a development contract at Ulster.

"It was really good for me to get that experience under my belt, scrummaging against someone like him."

And Simpson actually acquitted himself pretty well in the set-pieces - though McGrath did spend a total of 10 minutes in the bin - while he also showed up with several ball-carries as Ulster managed to prevent any further Leinster scores after the opening minute of the second half.

"We'll just take that as a massive positive for us," added Simpson of limiting Leinster to 22 points.

"It was a big step up for me, but I just tried to do my best for the team."

Belfast Telegraph

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