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European Champions Cup: Kyle McCall fired up for first Euro start with Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 18/11/2015

Action man: Kyle McCall is eager to make his European debut for Ulster
Action man: Kyle McCall is eager to make his European debut for Ulster

After waiting almost three years for his first Ulster start, Kyle McCall has taken the delay for a European bow in his stride.

The 23-year-old made his senior debut way back in March of 2013 - coming off the bench against Leinster in the RDS and holding up Sean Cronin over the line in the final seconds to preserve a first away win against the province's Dublin neighbours since 1999 - but over the next two seasons, just three more substitute cameos arrived.

Like London buses, when his first start came with an 80-minute shift in the win over the Dragons in Newport two weekends ago, another was to follow hot on its heels after he was named at loosehead to face Oyonnax in the Champions Cup last Saturday.

After that game was rightly postponed in light of the horrendous scenes in Paris less than 24 hours before kick-off, McCall has been made to wait for his first taste of European action.

With Callum Black surely itching to reclaim the number one jersey when Saracens return to town on Friday for what will now be Ulster's Champions Cup opener, McCall is hoping that Les Kiss keeps the faith.

"Hopefully I'll get another run," he said yesterday.

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"It would have been great to get my first start in Europe. It was great to just get my first start in the Pro12 the week before.

"For Les to have the faith to keep me in there against Oyonnax was great.

"You never know what's going to happen this week but hopefully he keeps the faith again and I can get the job done."

Knowing that props develop later than their counterparts behind the scrum, while also having flirted with a positional switch to hooker, McCall was happy to bide his time and stated the readiness of Ulster's coaches to trust youth as a huge motivation for those who regularly find themselves outside the matchday 23.

"It's been the past few years that process," McCall explained.

"I'm a prop, I'm 23 now, and I know that it takes longer for me to go in and get that first start. It's not just Les, it's implemented from all the coaches; they just have that faith.

"Kissy came in and gave me a shot but I think all the coaches look to do that and it's just a case of biding your time.

"It's tough to show what you can do coming off the bench, 10 minutes here, ten minutes there, but a bit of misfortune for others led to a bit of fortune for me and I got the chance (against Dragons).

"I like to think I took it and it just gives a few more selection queries and puts me in the frame that bit more.

"To play 80 minutes was great, it just shows that confidence they have in me."

With all five of his past appearances coming away from home, admittedly three of them close by in interprovincial derbies, McCall would relish the chance to run out under the lights of a now sold-out Kingspan Stadium in front of family and friends.

"If selected I'll have aunties, mum and dad all showing out I'm sure.

"This place (Kingspan) is awesome, I've played a few pre-season games here.

"If I were to play it would be first cap here and it would be a great occasion. I'm sure it'll be bouncing."

Such an atmosphere is virtually guaranteed with Saracens returning to the scene of their 2014 Heineken Cup quarter-final win and McCall is wary that the Aviva Premiership leaders will pose the most daunting test of the season.

"They're going to bring something different, challenge us in ways we haven't been challenged before," he said.

"They're going really well, they haven't lost yet. It'll be a big challenge for anyone who is in there. Hopefully here at Kingspan, we can do a job as a pack.

"It's going to be a great game. We'll have to step up to it and the crowd will get behind us no doubt."

That step up would no doubt be more pronounced for McCall than most but the former Wallace pupil feels the testing ground of the All-Ireland League with Ballynahinch has provided the ideal preparation.

"Just getting 'A' games and playing for my club in AIL 1A gives you that experience.

"It gives an easier transition into the Pro12 and hopefully the European game. It's a great testing ground.

"I'm playing against props who are playing for Leinster, Munster and Connacht.

"It's a real test in the front-row, for any forward. It's a great transition into the professional game."

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