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Dan Tuohy's desperate for game time after overcoming injuries

By Michael Sadlier

He's obviously upbeat to be back playing again, after what has so far been a season badly interrupted by injury, but Dan Tuohy certainly picks his moments.

After relishing his first pitch-time since January in last week's win over the Scarlets - a thumb injury picked up at Treviso required surgery and kept him out - he plays again tomorrow at the Dragons but then has to wait around for nearly three weeks before Ulster's next game.

"I come back and then there is a week off and then another week without a game at the end of it," he laughs, shaking his head at the timing of it all.

"Still, I suppose we're just going to have to get used to playing games a week on and then a week off soon with us being out of Europe," he adds over the approaching scheduling of matches in April.

He did, though, at least have the consolation of having just signed a new contract to keep him at the Kingspan for the next three years when the thumb gave out over in Treviso. And, in that respect, it wasn't an entirely bad result for the Irish-qualified player who moved here from Exeter Chiefs back in 2009.

"It's always good to get it done just before you get injured," the 29-year-old second row says while maintaining his good humour.

"It's pleasing for me and it shows commitment to the team. Hendy (Iain Henderson) has also re-signed for three years so it shows me that him and Franco (Van der Merwe) are going to be familiar faces in that position."

As it turns out, Tuohy actually may be busier than he thought in the aftermath of tomorrow's final game of this four-match PRO12 segment, with a text he received from Joe Schmidt opening up possibilities that he may be brought down to Ireland's training camp.

"Yes, Joe (Schmidt) messaged me at the start of last week and said 'I'll touch base with you after the Dragons'," says the nine-times capped Ireland player. "I don't know whether that means he is just going to tell me how I'm progressing or if he's going to call me into camp."

"I know I'm not going to play, I mean why would they change Hendy 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 actually be in camp with Ireland."

Either way, he is contented to be match-fit again and is hoping to be in the vanguard of Ulster's drive for a PRO12 play-off place and, indeed, the ultimate aim of then actually capturing the title at the Kingspan final on May 30, while, at the back of his mind, is a burning desire to also make the cut for Ireland's World Cup squad.

And Tuohy sees making the PRO12 final as being within Ulster's capability while recalling the last time they made the showdown in 2013 which, with the then Ravenhill under construction, meant moving Ulster's 'home' tie to the RDS to face, well, Leinster. Funnily enough, the 'away' team that day triumphed in their own backyard and it has stuck in the craw since with Ulster.

"The league is our bread and butter and once they confirmed that the final was here, well, we have to now make sure we finish first or second," says Tuohy.

"Of course we still have to win the semi-final but it is a big incentive for us."

"And I think we can achieve it, especially after the shambles of having to go down to the RDS. Yes, it's just a pitch and the crowd was 50/50, but when it comes down to those fine margins it certainly would be nice playing it here (at the Kingspan)."

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

Not that Tuohy is getting ahead of himself here. Anything but as he knows only too well that nothing can be taken and especially so tomorrow at the Dragons despite their poor form and lowly position in the table.

"They are one of these teams that mess with your head if you're not right and I have gone there and lost before," he recalls of Rodney Parade. "You go there and it's tiny changing rooms, and a bizarre ground where the pitch is up and down."

Allied to that has been Ulster's less than impressive away form which, Tuohy hopes, has now been fully addressed after narrow victories at Treviso and Edinburgh.

"This season we have been a bit disappointed with our away form but since the Treviso week (in January when Ulster narrowly won 24-20) we've drawn a line in the sand and said our away form has to improve.

"Although we didn't play well against Edinburgh we got the win and that is all that matters and I'd take a one point victory tomorrow to get the four points away from home."

"If we consider ourselves a top team in the Pro12 we have to go to Rodney Parade and win."

He has a point.

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