Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Black pushing hard to secure Ulster starting place

The weather’s getting colder, the Ireland players are back from their month away and it’s all ramping up again with two away games in five days heading Ulster’s way.

Callum Black smiles at the thought. After completing the same schedule during a rather fraught seven days in Italy, the American-born, England-educated and Irish-qualified prop knows what’s coming except that next week will have added edge.

And it’s not just any two games. After Sunday’s PRO12 game at the second-placed Scarlets, the so far unbeaten league leaders are back on European duty on Friday night with the opening shots to be fired against Northampton Saints at Franklins Gardens for the first of their back-to-back clashes.

“It was a really frustrating time really,” Black says of the uncomfortably narrow victories over Zebre and Treviso.

“It was frustrating personally and as a squad as we knew we didn’t perform and we were very lucky.

“All round it wasn’t great but we’ve still got to look at the positives and we came out of there with two wins and eight points.

“Now, it’s back to basics this we re-focus for the Scarlets and nobody wants to feel what it’s like to lose our first game,” the 26-year-old states.

Black will pack down at loose-head prop on Sunday for his 11th appearance this season — he has missed pitch time on just one outing when he wasn’t sprung from the bench for the Munster game in September — which has already overtaken his involvement on his first campaign here when the former Worcester Warrior only played nine times after missing much of the pre-Christmas period due to a serious neck injury.

He didn’t make the match day side for last May’s Heineken Cup final but now Black — assisted by Paddy McCallister’s season-ending injury — is a more active member of a much wiser and focused squad determined to challenge in both competitions.

“If you look at our league form last year when we had tight games we were losing.

“This year we had those two bad performances in Italy but, look, we still came away with two wins,” he adds.

In this squad, form and hard graft will be rewarded rather than mere reputation and the net result has seen Black and Tom Court slug it out for the number one shirt with the Ireland international far from guaranteed his spot.

“With me and Tom at the moment we are pushing each other hard to get that starting spot.”

“It’s great to be hopefully adding something to the team and if one of us is on the bench he will make the impact when he comes on and that pushes us to improve our games,” Black adds.

Black, who has played for Ireland at underage levels, has obviously been doing something right and last month got a contract extension until 2015 as a reward for his hard work and consistency.

In the meantime he is keeping up the work-rate and feeding off the input given by John Afoa.

“I’ve never been the biggest prop out there so I’ve worked on my technique to try and technically be the best I can be and also add something to the attack.”

A shot at the Saints and the fearsome Brian Mujati is a goal he doesn’t shirk from when the latter’s name crops up but, for now, it’s back to the grafting for Sunday’s challenge.

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