Belfast Telegraph

Desire to hit top helping me to prop up Ulster: Andrew Warwick

 

By Jonathan Bradley

There was a time not so long ago when talk of a prop working on his handling would have seen the player in question accused of having ideas above his station.

As for preparation, Peter Clohessy - one of Ireland's most-capped tightheads - was known for greeting the morning of a Test match with a cigarette in bed. Ulster's Andy Warwick has come to learn, though, that these are changed times.

They used to say that Clohessy was the only person in Limerick who could leave his car unlocked with no fear it would be gone when he returned and, while it would be a brave man who tampered with any vehicle belonging to the man they've nicknamed Big License, Warwick knows the days of props being seen as scrummagers first, enforcers second and little else beyond are dead and gone.

Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong, the men who start for Ireland against Wales in Dublin tomorrow, have broken the mould and there's no return.

And while Warwick himself will be involved in a Celtic clash commanding considerably fewer eyeballs, he knows that duo set the standard he is aspiring to as he prepares for Ulster's trip to Scarlets, which kicks off only a few hours or so after the big Six Nations game.

Striving for those improvements have been his focus in training of late, inspired no doubt by a few of head coach Jono Gibbes', shall we say, polite suggestions.

"At the start of the year I know personally I let myself down a bit," he admitted. "But I think I have trained really hard and hopefully that is starting to show on the pitch.

"I suppose it all comes from training, you have to be 100% in every training session and that is something I have learned this year, to be in contention to play you have to be better in training. Jono preaches that week on week and it is beginning to show with a lot of players now."

It's certainly something that seems to be paying off for the Ballymena man lately.

Having started just two games in the first five months of the season, he started two in the space of two weeks in Gibbes' first pair of team selections since taking over from Les Kiss.

His stats in the loss to Edinburgh seven days ago don't exactly jump off the sheet - eight tackles, seven carries and one turnover - when compared to the huge impacts of Healy and Furlong, but do in fact show a marked improvement from the season's early days.

"Personally I hadn't had much of a go but I've been working hard in training and trying to get round the pitch a lot better and I'm feeling good out there now," said Warwick.

"You see that with the performance of top international props now, you have to be good at everything and I suppose it is something I have to work on to get me round the pitch a lot better.

"You don't want to be going in every time and shortening the line but if it comes my way (at the breakdown), if it's there you get over the ball and try to steal it.

"You look at the Irish internationals like Cian Healy and the way he carries, he is probably a different player to me. Tadhg Furlong, the way he carries and gets round the pitch is pretty impressive, you try and get to their level as much as you can."

While Ulster are not particularly hit hard during this Six Nations in terms of international call-ups - they have Iain Henderson injured, Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale playing against Wales and John Cooney outside the 23 - the same cannot be said for the Scarlets.

The Welsh region, who yesterday confirmed that full-back Johnny McNicholl and winger Tom Prydie are likely to miss the rest of the season, have 11 players in Warren Gatland's national squad, although have had James Davies and Ryan Elias returned to Parc y Scarlets.

Wayne Pivac's men have lost two in a row after reverses to Benetton and Leinster, but the champions still look secure in Conference B's top two. Ulster, meanwhile, need points wherever they can get them.

The side have fallen out of the Guinness PRO14 play-off places for the first time this season after last week's last-gasp defeat, and their place in next season's Champions Cup is under real threat with just six games of the campaign remaining.

Warwick believes the performance against Edinburgh augurs well, even if the result has left them sweating.

"To lose on the final whistle is never easy to take but the defensive performance was very good," he said. "We were getting off the line a lot better and with the amount of possession they had it was always going to be difficult.

"Jono is always pretty tough, but he has to be. I think aspects of the game were really good but just our exits and restarts weren't good enough on the night and we'll work on that this week to make it right.

"We're definitely ready for Scarlets and training has been really good. We're ready for them to fling the ball about and we have been working on our units to get round the pitch.

"I think they haven't lost a game at home in the league since 2016, so it's a difficult place to go. Hopefully we'll just go there, put a shift in and hope for the best."

Scarlets vs Ulster

Guinness PRO14 Championship

Parc y Scarlets, Saturday, 7.35pm

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