RaboDirect Pro12: McAllister in rush to make his mark at Ulster
Standing 6ft 1in, weighing 18st 6lb and impressively fast over the ground for a man of those imposing dimensions, Ulster prop Paddy McAllister dreams of a one-to-one meeting with an opposition back — ideally out in the open.
There is a real glint in his eye at the prospect of such a rhino versus a Springbok scenario.
This hope comes to light in the course of a conversation in which he highlights the decision-making processes involved in ball-carrying.
“You need to learn when not to go to a ruck and commit, when you’re being lazy or (when) to come out and be an option to carry a bit wider and maybe run into a back, which I’d love to do,” McAllister beams.
“I’m just dying for the day where I get a ball and there’s 20 metres in front of me and I run into a little winger.”
In anticipation of that encounter, one feels for the winger. There can’t be too many 11s or 14s who would relish a full-on head-to-head with the front row forward whose strikingly blonde hair is comparable to that of London Mayor Boris Johnston.
McAllister is a larger than life personality who is making rapid progress. With Irish Schools, Under-19 and Under-20 caps stashed away, the 22-year-old is hoping to add to his collection of international honours.
Currently, of course, that is what Tom Court (pictured) is doing; he is in New Zealand as a member of Declan Kidney’s World Cup squad.
But while Court is away with Ireland, the ambitious McAllister is determined to stake a hard-to-ignore claim to occupy the Ulster loose-head berth more regularly. To that end he makes no secret of his determination to use the next few weeks to maximum advantage.
Callum Black’s unfortunate neck injury has temporarily removed another rival from the picture, leaving McAllister free to get on with making his case.
“With Tom away to the World Cup there’s big opportunities,” he says. “Callum has come in and he’s done very well so it’s unlucky that he’s injured right now because it would have been good competition.”
And looking ahead to Court’s return, the young pretender to his crown adds: “I want to go higher and I’m sure Tom wants to keep his place so it’s going to be a good competition.”
There is no hint of misgiving. One can see McAllister welcomes the prospect of working his way up that particular ladder.
He knows he can expect ‘good competition’ tomorrow afternoon against Aironi at Stade Zaffanella too.
“We’ve been doing video analysis of them all week and no matter if you’re playing their third-string team it’s always going to be a big bruiser of a guy who’s going to be very strong and physical. We’re getting our mindset to that; we need to match their physicality and more so that’s really what we’re concentrating on,” he reveals.
McAllister does not attempt to sex-up the role of front row men. As he sees it, their raison d’etre is to get in there and secure possession of the ball. It’s no place for the faint-hearted.
“You can carry ball and do all the fancy stuff all you like, but the bread and butter of a prop is lifting and scrummaging. If you can’t do that you’re not going to get anywhere,” is his tell-it-like-it-is job description.
“The key thing for young guys is to learn how to scrummage and to do it well — and not only to be safe in it, because if you want to go to the next level you have to be getting penalties out of people and you have to be coming out of scrums being the better man,” he stresses.
McAllister has personal goals, though he is too canny to divulge them.
“If they don’t work then I fall flat on my face,” he points out.
“I keep saying that I’m a young prop, but I still set my targets very high. I get a lot of people telling me, ‘Be patient, be patient, you’re young’, but inside that really gets my blood boiling because I don’t want just to be classified as somebody who’ll come through in a few years.
“I really want to be competing at the highest level — where people don’t think I should be competing at this stage.”
Clearly he does not accept that young props can’t scrummage in top-flight football because they lack the necessary experience.
In support of his view McAllister — who aspires to being “a specialist at loose-head but comfortable at tight-head” — points to Ireland’s Cian Healy and New Zealand’s Owen Franks, both of whom are 23. They provide proof that you are old enough when you’re good enough.
Tomorrow, meanwhile, he wins his 24th Ulster cap, his 12th as a starter. His next goal is to double his collection.
“A 22-year-old prop with 50 caps? I’d be happy with that,” he smiles.