Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Ulster Rugby: Lewis Stevenson eager to get stuck in

Lewis Stevenson is focused on keeping Ulster heading in the right direction
Lewis Stevenson is focused on keeping Ulster heading in the right direction

Lewis Stevenson is under no illusions. He recognises there are others ahead of him on the Ulster locks' ladder and that at 29 years of age the odds of him climbing above them are lengthening all the time.

But does he throw in the towel? No way; Stevenson still has ambitions and right now he is a proud squad member, willing to step up when called upon and determined to contribute to the cause. He lives the adage that there is no ‘I' in team to a ‘t’.

Nor does he need to be reminded of the fact that things change, sometimes very quickly and totally unexpectedly. So just hang on in there, keep working, give it your all, be a valuable squad member and grab whatever opportunities come your way. That is his mindset.

Tonight at Ravenhill where fourth-placed Ulster host Ospreys, who are third, in the RaboDirect PRO12 (7.35pm), coach Mark Anscombe |(pictured) hands Stevenson a rare start. Stevenson is appreciative of that.

As well as the importance of the opportunity, the importance of occasion will be his spur. He knows that the next few weeks are about keeping the truck on the road, ensuring that Ulster do not lose ground in the race for a top four finish and, with that, a place in the play-off semi-finals.

And when the likes of Dan Tuohy returns following his Six Nations duties with Ireland, Stevenson wants to be able to look him in the eye knowing that, in his absence, he did not undermine any of the earlier work. That really matters to him.

“I think all of us who are brought in while the guys are away at the national camp recognise the responsibility,” Stevenson said.

“We don't want to let the guys who have put us into this position down. They've put in a lot of hard work up to this point so now it's up to us to carry that forward.”

At that, with no hint of envy, he lauded Tuohy's performance for Ireland against Scotland.

“I thought he was brilliant,” Stevenson said of his colleague.

“I think that to get thrown in the way he was and then to have played as well as he did just proved he was where he belongs.

“I think that in the past he just maybe didn't get the opportunities he deserved. Hopefully he has now cemented his place in the Irish squad which is where I think both he and Iain (Henderson) belong.”

As the conversation unfolded, the word ‘pressure' cropped up. Stevenson smiled in response.

“It's a pressure we put on ourselves and it's something we have to welcome and use,” he said.

“Yes, there's a responsibility to keep things moving in the right direction, but that's just part of the job.”

The suggestion that he has never been found wanting when required to go into battle revealed genuine modesty on his part.

“That's my job, that's what I'm here for, it's what I do. When guys are called away to national camp it's up to me and others like me to step up,” he said.

“I'm old enough now to realise that Johann (Muller) is captain, and he's a great player, so he's going to play.

“Dan and Iain are both internationals now, so when they come back they're going to slot in.

“So it's up to me to take the opportunity when it comes and prove that I can play to a standard that hopefully puts pressure on those guys and maybe gives the coaching staff a bit of a headache when it comes to selection.

“At the minute that's the pecking order which means I've just got to keep working so that when I am picked I don't let the squad down.”

Looking ahead to tonight's clash with the Ospreys, Stevenson said: “It's a massive game for us — all of the next three or four are. This is the time to kick on and move ahead in this competition.

“We can't underestimate Ospreys, they're going to come with a lot of pace and a lot of power so we've got to make sure we front up and match them in that respect.

“They've played in the last couple of weeks (LV Cup) while we've had time off, so I think we've got to use that time off to our advantage — use that freshness and enthusiasm to play again.

“It's going to be an interesting match-up between us; while they're going to come here battle-hardened, we're fresher. It will be interesting to see how those things work out. But it's definitely going to be tough. If the weather's a factor it might come down to who copes better with that or even the toss of a coin.”

The Ulster squad has been built with circumstances like international absenteeism in mind. Tonight, therefore, Stevenson believes they have the right men in place for the challenge.

“The leaders in our squad — guys like Johann and Robbie (Diack) — just have to step up, steady the ship and make sure we get on with the job,” he said matter-of-factly.

To that end, Stevenson is a colleague on whom they will know they can rely.

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