Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Ulster Rugby: Callum Black aims to become a starter

Callum Black put in an inspired shift against the Cardiff Blues last week

It wasn't long before Callum Black achieved the type of statement all props envisage making as they toil away in their visceral world of direct contact along with its accompanying demand for total domination of their opposite number.

The scrum had been declared good to go when the Cardiff Blues eight were propelled backwards while Black had Scott Andrews in all manner of discomfort last Friday night at Ravenhill and this situation was not radically altered even after Taufa'ao Filise had trundled out to relieve his struggling team-mate.

It proved a very useful night's work for Black.

After all, he had started the game – instead of usually being sprung from the bench – while his performance also hopefully reminded Ulster coach Mark Anscombe that there is more to his game than simply acting as back-up to Tom Court.

And not only that, but the 27-year-old Irish qualified but American-born and England-raised prop – yes, quite a combination and surely worthy of a pub quiz question – had plenty of extra motivation to make last Friday night's chance really count.

You see, Black's summer didn't exactly pan out the way the Ulster loose-head prop would have wanted.

What with the Lions and Ireland touring there was the possibility that the Emerging Ireland's trip to the Tiblisi Cup in Georgia would have had him on board.

He didn't get the nod though and, instead, found himself with some time on his hands.

"Obviously it was a bit disappointing to not get any recognition," is how he recalls the situation. "But it was quite nice to get a four week break from rugby and I had a couple of friends' stags to go on so I at least switched off."

Not that you really buy into Black's apparent contentment with his lot and though missing out on the Emerging Ireland tour clearly hurt – particularly so as he has represented Ireland at underage level – there is clearly now a greater steel about him in this his third season at Ravenhill.

"It was good to show what I'm about from the start of a game," Black says of last Friday's outing against the Blues.

"Obviously first and foremost, I want to start week in and week out for Ulster," he adds, before talking of being in pole position now that Court is with Ireland.

"When Ulster are doing well, more guys are going to get into the international squad, and then everybody (at Ulster), when they get their chance at starting, really want to put their case forward and try to retain their spot."

The former Worcester Warrior, who is signed up to Ulster until 2015, is due to get his second successive start tomorrow at the Scarlets before the squad take a break ahead of their next game against Edinburgh towards the end of the month.

And with Ulster seeking their seventh consecutive win in all competitions, Black is determined to make sure that, while things are on his watch, they make sure the momentum is kept going.

"We're fourth in the league and this is the last big game before the break and therefore we have to throw everything into it," he said.

He's a typical loose-head, quite small and stocky to allow him rely more on technique than the bulk and power usually associated with his opposing tight-head props.

And being a prop, he is rather more comfortable talking about scrums and how this season's new engagement ruling – taking away the 'hit' – has given him more opportunity to use his technical ability to discomfort his opposite numbers.

"Being shorter, against the bigger tight-heads, you're in a good body position and you're under him straight away," Black explains.

"Before the rule change, a big tight-head would have just hit you and try to get over you straight away so the new rules are definitely a positive for me," he adds while recalling that certain French tight-head props seemed to hit him the hardest at the scrum engagement when the rules allowed it.

But the downside is that scrums are now longer and are definitely taking a toll on props when it comes to their now desired mobility and ball carrying skill.

"Yes, you come out of a scrum now and sometimes your legs have gone straight away. I think over time props will either become fitter or just be rotated more," Black says with a smile.

For the moment, though, just staking his claim while also ensuring he discomforts his opposite number will suffice.

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