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European Champions Cup Oyonnax v Ulster: Humphreys sets sights on firing Kiss a reminder

By Michael Sadlier

Published 07/01/2016

The Kingspan had pretty much emptied last Saturday when he finally got on the pitch and, by then, Ian Humphreys had quite a bit of pent-up energy to unleash.

He really let rip in the familiar post-match routine for some of the Ulster replacements, as they were put through a series of exercises and sprints.

For a 33-year-old, the out-half still looked pretty sharp but then, of course, this was his only chance to work up a sweat from the Munster game as Humphreys had, yet again, been in Les Kiss' match-day 23 but not granted any game-time.

It's largely been this way since the season started.

Humphreys quickly calculates that he has, so far, managed a bit more than 80 minutes of playing spread out over just four games in which he has been on the park.

Injury hasn't helped, with a torn hamstring keeping him sidelined during Paddy Jackson's absence at the World Cup, and his one start, so far, in the home win over Cardiff Blues at the end of October was curtailed by Jackson's bench presence courtesy of Ireland's earlier than anticipated exit from the global competition.

"It's just a part of it," said Humphreys of his situation which last saw him involved in the 38-0 drubbing of Toulouse when he got just over a quarter of an hour and landed a marvellous, but hardly noticed, conversion.

Not great really and especially so when there is a contract about to expire at the end of the season.

Humphreys, who left Ulster in 2012 for a two-year stint at London Irish before returning home again, continued: "It's happened in the past when I was at Leicester (from 2005-2008) and I was sitting behind Andy Goode.

"It never gets any easier and it's still frustrating.

"Of course you like to think that you can make an impact and change things a little bit but, to be fair, Jacko (Paddy Jackson) has been kicking and playing really well over the last while."

Which leads to his take on not being called upon last weekend to try and change things up in the losing arm-wrestle with Munster.

"It's a big call to take off your goal-kicker in such a tight game," said Humphreys while, admirably, not sounding irritated.

"So I 100 per cent understood. I think with a few minutes to go they were going to bring me on at full-back but then the ball didn't actually go out of play.

"It's one of those things and I'm not going to admit that it's easy (being on the bench).

"But I still want to be part of it so I'm more than willing to do what the coaches want."

Things may be about to change though and Humphreys looks in line to get a start in the rescheduled European clash at Oyonnax on Sunday - the original game being cancelled due to the Paris terror attacks - which will be quite the challenge considering he has so little game-time under his belt.

It's also the first of three consecutive games for Ulster in the Champions Cup with the visit to runaway Pool One leaders Saracens sandwiched between encounters with struggling Oyonnax, whose main focus is now on their troubles in the domestic Top 14 championship.

For Ulster, of course, the dramatic back-to-back wins over Toulouse have brought quite a change in fortune with a chance for them now to make it to the last eight as one of three best runners-up.

This scenario, though, is based on them beating the pool's bottom side Oyonnax home and away which, naturally, makes Sunday one of those must-win scenarios.

"Last year making it to 17 points (Ulster are second and currently on nine, 10 behind Saracens) actually qualified for the quarter-final," Humphreys added before pointing out that winless Oyonnax will not want to fall as tamely as they did when hosting Saracens (who triumphed 45-10) at Stade Charles Mathon.

"We know that two sets of four points will hopefully get us over the line.

"If we go over there and think 'this is bonus point followed by bonus point' we know we'll come unstuck."

As for having flushed the Munster experience out of their systems, Humphreys is pragmatic about its impact on the squad.

"I think it's been more a case of making sure that we don't overreact to the defeat against Munster," is how he assessed the fallout after the inter-pro loss.

"We didn't think things were perfect when we were winning and we don't think things are horrendous now that we've lost.

"The key thing is that we don't go back into our shells and that we keep trying to play."

Sunday will also be a chance for him to actually play a meaningful part in an Ulster victory in France while also setting out his stall ahead of the Six Nations window with Jackson more than likely to link up with Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad.

And how Humphreys needs to show up prior to the imminent return of Stuart Olding, who is also a potential candidate for the No.10 shirt during Jackson's time away with the national team.

"Hopefully I'll get game-time and, at my age, it will be nice to get out and run around a bit," said Humphreys with a smile.

He certainly deserves his chance to dodge those post-match shuttle runs.

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