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Ulster lock Dan Tuohy: Joe Schmidt said he'd be in touch

By David Kelly

There is a humorous Vine doing the rounds on social media which shows Ireland international lock Dan Tuohy temporarily struggling to open the door to the Kingspan home dressing-room before last week's thumping win against the Scarlets.

He could see the funny side of it, too.

Mercifully, in his second comeback from injury already this term, he batted away all subsequent obstacles, even dotting down for a try in the 25-20 win that maintains his province's excellent run of form.

At once, the result retained the buoyancy in his side's charge for a Pro12 home semi-final and, perhaps, the Bristol-born second-row's outside chances of yet gatecrashing Ireland's Six Nations title charge.

While the former scenario looks healthier than it has been in quite a while, he may have to wait to see whether or not Joe Schmidt deems it necessary to adjust what, thus far, has been an incredibly accurate deployment of his squad during their unbeaten campaign.

"Joe messaged me at the start of last week and said, 'I'll touch base with you after the Dragons'," reveals Tuohy, whose return from thumb surgery followed an earlier arm break that put paid to his November Ireland chances.

"I don't know whether that means he is just going to tell me how I'm progressing or call me into camp.

"I know I'm certainly not going to play. Why would they change Iain Henderson when they are winning to bring me in out of the cold from nowhere after an injury?

"So I'm not too sure of my whereabouts next week, whether I'll have a week off or whether I'll be in camp with Ireland. We're just going to have to get used to playing week on, week off given the fact that we are out of Europe."

For Tuohy, at least, there is consolation in the fact that he is at least in a position to pose a challenge to the national coach after returning from injury, once more, in what has developed into an utterly frustrating season.

"I don't think it was the most entertaining to be honest," he says of his eventual return to action - after negotiating the minor hurdle of the dressing-room door.

"Twenty minutes after half-time we had the game wrapped up and it was disappointing not to get a bonus point because that would have put us joint top which would have been nice.

"It would have taken us four points away from Leinster and an extra point away from the Ospreys. But it was good to get back just under 70 minutes under my belt and it was a fairly standard Pro12 hit-out really.

"The thumb was fine, they gave me a week of training in the Edinburgh week and that gave me a chance to have no reaction to it so I went in with no concern about it.

"I have been stiff for the last couple of days but it wasn't quick, there were a lot of reset scrums and the pitch is poor which slows the game down and the Scarlets kicked a lot."

Nevertheless, Ulster remain in prime position to march on to a home semi-final - and potential "home" final as Kingspan has been already awarded the Pro12 final which, given the "shambles" of 2013, would be just reward for Ulster, he feels.

"I think we can achieve it especially after the shambles of having to go down to the RDS," he says, recalling the final which should have been played in Belfast but was switched to Dublin as the then Ravenhill was being re-developed.

"It's still the same pitch, the same players and the crowd was 50/50 but when it comes down to those fine margins, it certainly would be nice playing here.

"It was a bizarre one for us, we were top of the league and had totally blitzed it that year. We had the Scarlets here in the semi and knocked them out of the park and our reward was an RDS final against Leinster of all teams."

As they prepare for Sunday's trip to Dragons, the league remains their sole focus after Ulster's disappointing exit from Europe but the 29-year-old is keen to dismiss those who were overly critical of their efforts in the Champions Cup.

"There was a little bit made when we went out of Europe that our season wasn't as we had planned given the high expectations of the last few seasons," he explains.

"Europe is a bit of a bizarre competition with the money involved and it is hard to see anyone outside the French clubs winning it, possibly for a long time, It depends what group you are in.

"The league is our bread and butter and it's just pleasing to start shooting up the league and get amongst it. And once they confirmed the final was here, we have to make sure we finish first or second, then we still have to win the semi but it is a big incentive for us.

"We know we have a really tough run-in at the back end while it is different for some of our rivals. That finish will decide the top three so we are trying to do our damage now and see where we stand at the end."

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