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Ah You is keen to stake big claim for an Ulster jersey

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 20/08/2016

Chance to impress: Rodney Ah You will start in Ulster’s pre-season clash with the Exeter Chiefs
Chance to impress: Rodney Ah You will start in Ulster’s pre-season clash with the Exeter Chiefs

In a different time, Ulster's new signing Rodney Ah You could have been putting his hand up to solve the injury problems in Les Kiss' back-row.

The province are without a host of loose forwards for this afternoon's friendly against Exeter in Sandy Park (3pm kick-off) due to injuries and late returns from Ireland duty and their latest arrival has played a bit of No.8 in his day.

The problem, Ah You recalls with a laugh, was the amount of ground to be covered from the base of the scrum.

"When I first started when I was about 16-years-old, I was a back-rower but obviously I wasn't that fast," he said. "I soon found out there was too much running for me so switched to prop. It was Dave Hewett, a former All Black who was coaching one of the other clubs in Christchurch, who thought it would be a good move for me."

A late start, a positional change and an early interest in becoming a boxer mean it's been a circuitous route taken by the 27-year-old Irish-capped Kiwi to the Kingspan Stadium.

Or rather, back to the Kingspan Stadium. It was there in 2007 that Ah You appeared in an U19 World Cup which saw he and his Baby Blacks team-mates lifting the crown.

Born in Wellington with Samoan and Chinese heritage, Ah You went to Christchurch Boys High - an institution known as a production line for future All Blacks and where Dan Carter spent his final year of schooling - and his rugby future seemed sure to continue in his homeland after such under-age success.

Although he progressed through the Canterbury set-up, he never graduated to Super Rugby level with Crusaders and moved to Connacht in 2010, a signing originally sparked by the injury-enforced retirement of England prop Robbie Morris.

Galway ended up being home for six years. He and wife Bella had their four children in the west of Ireland and he admits it was tough to leave, especially after Pat Lam's men pulled off the most unlikely of league title victories last season.

"At first, I was just very surprised that Ulster approached me," he recalled. "I'm very happy that I've come here. It just feels like a good time. There's a good squad here with all the Irish international players and it means I'll be able to improve my game.

"It was really hard to leave Connacht but I made the decision for my family. If I've a happy family then I play good rugby."

It's a similar sentiment to one that we've heard many times over the years from Nick Williams, the No.8 who has moved to Cardiff after four seasons in Belfast. Ah You says his interest in the move was piqued when visiting the recently departed fans' favourite while he also sought out the advice of his fellow tight-head John Afoa.

"I was chatting with John before coming here and I've been up a couple of times to visit Nick," he said. "They told me about their time here and didn't have a bad word to say so I put pen to paper."

Exeter this afternoon will be his second Ulster outing after a substitute appearance against Leinster in Navan last weekend.

While going head-to-head with vastly less experienced opposition - Leo Cullen's loosehead was Andrew Porter, a star of the Irish run to the U20 World Championship final - Ah You provided a real impact throughout his first showing.

Pleased to make an immediate impression, he senses bigger battles ahead, notably making the No.3 jersey his own.

Wiehahn Herbst has been the starter when fit since arriving two years ago but has not featured since January.

With a foot problem the reason for his absence last year, the project player suffered another injury in pre-season and his recovery period will be measured in months rather than weeks.

Ricky Lutton will therefore be Ah You's primary competition early on, while Andy Warwick can play both sides of the scrum.

"Wiehahn got injured in the first two weeks," Ah You said. "He's a good player and training alongside him I know he's tough. To earn that jersey (for the start of the season) would be massive."

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