Let me off the leash... Dan Tuohy ready to answer Les Kiss call
As another lengthy spell on the sidelines comes to an end, Ulster's Dan Tuohy admits that Sunday's meeting with Bordeaux-Begles in the Champions Cup is just the type of occasion he has missed during his battle with injury.
The Irish international lock sustained a foot problem in the final weeks of 2015, following on from a pair of broken arms in recent seasons, and only made his return to action for Ulster's second string in a heavy defeat to their Leinster counterparts in Donnybrook last weekend.
The Bristol-born forward admits that the length of time he spent away from the game was hard to bear.
"It's been a long time coming," he said.
"I had that run-out for the 'A' side and it was my first game at all in 2016. I suppose now I'm looking to play every week now, I need to make up for lost time.
"There were a lot of things happening here that I missed out on. For me it's massively important to now play as much as I can and to stay fit.
"It's something that you take for granted when you're fit, but when you're staring down the barrel of a long slog to get back, then you realise how much it means. I'm thoroughly looking forward to finishing this year strong."
With Franco van der Merwe having trained yesterday after missing last week's loss to Connacht, Tuohy's return to the senior side may wait another week - a second outing for the 'A' side against Jersey in the British and Irish Cup remains more likely than making the trip to Bordeaux - with the second pool game, against his former side Exeter Chiefs, a fixture in which he would dearly love to see action.
"I've felt fit for a few weeks now and I'm pushing on in training, but with a 10-month injury, that's longer than you'd be out with a torn ACL," he said.
"It's important to get minutes and prove to the coaches that I'm up to speed. Then the decision passes onto them. Not many guys are still at Exeter from when I was. There's a few from here and Gareth Steenson was there when I was there.
"They've not had the start they would have liked but they're a quality team and we've seen that as recently as pre-season. It's a squad that's deep with experienced pros.
"You know when you start in Europe two wins from two is so important. We've got the really tough fixtures, back-to-back against Clermont, coming up so we need to start with a bang. Coming off the loss last week as well, we want to put that right too."
Having made just three European appearances in the past two seasons, his comeback in continental competition is not the only fixture Tuohy has to look forward to in the coming weeks.
With less than a month to go until Kingspan Stadium hosts the contest between the Barbarians and Fiji, it has been confirmed that Tuohy and teammate Ruan Pienaar will be lining out for the invitational outfit.
Having taken on the Barbarians on three previous occasions -the most recent coming when they played Ireland in Limerick two years ago - the 31-year-old says his call-up is a proud moment.
"I've played against them a few times actually but it's a huge honour.
"I said to my Dad the other day that I'll have played for and against the Barbarians and that's pretty special.
"I'm really looking forward to it and it's good of the club, Les Kiss and the guys, to allow me to do it.
"It's quite unique for Irish rugby players, playing for the Barbarians if you've been an international, so I'm really looking forward to it.
"I've played them three times and been given the run-around three times.
"There's a social aspect that goes back to the amateur days, but when you pull on that shirt you want to win. I've played against Fiji too and we know what they bring to the party as well. If the weather is good it should be some game."
On fitting in with the Barbarians' unique style of running rugby, Tuohy admitted he was looking forward to the freedom.
"It's the only time I can try those out the back door offloads without getting one of Les's size 10s up the backside," he laughed. "I'll enjoy it for one game at least."