Ulster Rugby must get back in the driving seat: Callum Black
Published 09/05/2014 | 11:00
The general idea was to get some time on the pitch after being out for nearly two months but, instead, things worked out rather differently for Callum Black last Friday evening.
He had barely settled himself on Ulster's bench when starting loose-head prop Tom Court was trudging his way off after being shown red by English referee Luke Pearce for the spear tackle on Devin Toner.
So with Plan A out the window, Black was on and had pretty much no option than see out time. Still, it could have been worse as Andrew Warwick was having to find his feet in the rather more unaccustomed role of tight-head prop, and against Cian Healy of all people, though the Academy player still acquitted himself well as Black is at pains to point out.
"First game back on the bench then you see the ref going to the big screen," Black recalls about last Friday's 22-20 defeat which at least delivered Ulster safely to fourth place and a guaranteed away semi-final.
"You're not sure which card is going to come out, but I wasn't expecting the 65 minutes.
"Still, it was also a useful bit of fitness work and it felt good to be back in the side," the 28-year-old says of a game where Ulster's scrum grew from unpromising beginnings to put in a fairly solid display against Leinster's all-international front row, and this despite being reduced to seven forwards.
"We've looked back at the game and there were one or two scrums where we were caught but then again being a man down we did well to hold our own.
"We even put a bit of pressure on (them). The boys showed a lot of character and we were pleased with that," the American-born, England-raised but Irish-qualified prop adds, though also noting that there were mixed emotions over suffering a defeat even though it still kept their season alive.
It was, though, a satisfying return for Black as the last time he had been on the Ravenhill pitch it ended with him being helped off with an ankle injury in the win over the Scarlets in mid-March.
"Yes, I hurt it in a scrum against the Scarlets.
"I rolled and all the pressure came onto it and it went both ways. It was pretty sore," he says of having to hit the rehab programme.
"But the ankle felt ok last week," he says of his longer than expected return against Leinster.
He will be part of tomorrow evening's side down at Thomond Park and though accepting that Ulster will be, understandably, seeking to keep their powder dry selection-wise for what is, for the visitors, a meaningless game, there will be no dilution in the determination to try and get a result, especially as the squad have now lost four of their last five outings.
"It is a nothing game in the standings," Black admits, "but we need to put in a good performance leading into the semi-final and being a derby against Munster, the atmosphere down there will be massive and they could change positions so there will certainly be big motivation for them to get a result.
"There are a lot of young boys going to be involved for us who are champing at the bit to show what they are about.
"It's Munster away and we're going there for the win," he says.
Even so, next week's semi-final is still on his mind and the game should offer him another opportunity to wear the number one shirt.
"We could play Leinster away in the semis and losing the final down there last year will give us added motivation. Last week, we showed that being a man down we could still compete with them so it (playing at the RDS) will hold no fears for us."
And from a personal point of view, Black wants to taste success at the end of his third season here while he still harbours ambitions to be part of the international set-up – he's played at underage level for Ireland – with a place on this summer's Emerging Ireland squad being the most likely outcome.
First, though, it's about putting his shoulder to the wheel for Ulster.