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Ulster Rugby's Michael Heaney aims to learn from Ruan Pienaar

By Jack Brennan

Michael Heaney is one of Ulster Rugby's up and coming young stars.

He may only stand at 5ft 9inches and weigh just over 12 stone, but what Heaney lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in dogged determination and desire. He signed a two year deal in March keeping him at Ravenhill until 2015, which should be more than enough time to carry on impressing Coach Mark Anscombe.

Having made his debut in 2010 in a friendly against Harlequins he has gone from strength to strength, having put in stellar performances when given his chance.

The former Ireland under-20 international, who celebrates his 23rd birthday today, has another cause for celebration this season given his excellent performances on the pitch for Ulster. However like all ambitious young players, he admits that he would like to play more rugby for Ulster.

"Personally I think I would have liked to have played a bit more rugby for the senior side. Whenever you're playing club rugby or playing for the Ulster Ravens you've got to make the most of every minute of game time.

"You have to put your best foot forward and make sure that whenever the time comes and you get to pull on the white shirt, that you perform and make it hard for the coaches to not pick you."

Heaney is currently third choice scrum half in the Ulster side, behind Springbok Ruan Pienaar and Paul Marshall. But the 23-year-old is full of self-confidence, and has no problem backing his own ability, and believes that if he wasn't capable of over-taking his more illustrious team mates, then there would not be much point in putting in all the hard work.

He said: "I need to maximise the game time and opportunities that I get, and play as much rugby as I can. At the minute I probably am third choice with two good scrum halves ahead of me, it's going to be difficult to dislodge one of them, but you've got to take confidence from all of your performances.

If you don't believe that you're good enough to play at this level and be better than your counterparts then you're not going to get too far," he added.

However Heaney is also making the most of having Pienaar in the Ulster side, learning from one of the best in the business is something that he feels can only improve his own game.

"Watching him train week- in, week-out, seeing some of the stuff that he does is brilliant and it's great to learn from someone like him. He's one of the best scrum halves in the world, his skill set is incredible and he reads the game really well, so training with him is brilliant."

Success is not something that is alien to Heaney either, having won two Schools' Cup medals with Methodist College.

The desire to win that was bred into him at school is something that he has carried forward into senior rugby.

"I'd like to win something with Ulster, I think over the last couple of seasons we've given ourselves opportunities to win competitions, we've been in the Pro12 final and the Heineken Cup final in the last couple of years. I think that everybody in the squad feels the same way, we just want a bit of silverware now."

Heaney's rugby education changed direction from his native Ulster when he went out on a four month loan to Doncaster Knights two seasons ago. He said that despite it only being a short loan spell it not only felt like a fresh start, but also improved him as a player.

He said: "It was a change of scenery and it was good to go over there and have a fresh start and whenever I came back it felt like a fresh start too. I was able to prove to the coaches, and then obviously Mark Anscombe coming in as the new coach, proving to him that I was good enough to be around and happy enough to be signing a two year deal."

"But I think being away helped me a lot to develop as a player.

"I think over the last couple of years I've matured somewhat as a player and I like to think that if that keeps happening then I'll get more opportunities at Ulster," he said.

And if Heaney continues to impress like he did when he came off the bench in Ulster's 18-12 victory over the Ospreys last month, those opportunities will no doubt continue to come his way. Fly half Paddy Jackson, who was Heaney's half-back partner at school, may have got the plaudits that night with his faultless kicking display, but it was the introduction of the bustling Heaney which had a big say on that win. His energy when he came off the bench was infectious.

He said: "Any feedback that I've had from the coaches is to continue doing what I'm doing and make it hard for them not to pick me whenever it comes down to selection.

Obviously I'm still young, I've still a lot of improvements that still can be made.

"But hopefully if I keep taking my chances and keep been given opportunities I can take them and keep developing as a player."

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