Belfast Telegraph

I'll make the most of final steps with Ulster: Callum Black

 

By Michael Sadlier

Not long to go now before Callum Black will pull an Ulster jersey on for the last time and, not surprisingly, the awareness that his seven years here are drawing to a close is uppermost in his mind.

With the chances of the province being able to overhaul Edinburgh still not looking that likely - the Scots are eight points ahead in third and, despite their wobbles, in position to claim PRO14 knockout rugby - it means that Black will probably have, at best, four more opportunities to play for Ulster.

That's three regulation season games, starting with tomorrow night's hosting of the Ospreys, and the hoped-for play-off to claim a place in the Champions Cup should Ulster hold on to fourth in Conference B and keep Benetton behind them.

The 32-year-old loose-head prop, who is joining Worcester Warriors on a two-year deal, has, naturally, given his departure from the Kingspan some reflection, though emotion cannot overshadow the need to do his job.

"There is no guarantee you'll be in the squad every week," says the American-born, English-raised and Irish-qualified player who knows all about not regularly making the first team in this campaign.

"So if I get the chance to run out this week I'll have to play as if it is my last.

"It is just about what I can do for the team to finish on a high, so there is a bit more incentive.

"And I'll have to put everything into it," adds Black, who is in line to make his 143rd appearance tomorrow evening, in what will only be his 15th outing of this season.

And with a certain amount of emotion now creeping in, he continues: "This is my seventh season and I have loved my time at Ulster.

"It has been a great experience. Hopefully I have done my part for the team and I believe I have improved massively as a player.

"My family have loved it here, my two daughters were born here, so it is a special place," adds Black whose Irish qualification saw him tog out for Emerging Ireland while here.

With that, though, it's back to the job and facing Allen Clarke's in-form Ospreys side. The thing is that Clarke - who served here as assistant coach up until last season and is, for the moment, in charge at the Liberty Stadium after Steve Tandy's exit - knows a great deal about the Ulster squad and, in particular, their forwards.

"We do have to think about that (Clarke's knowledge) a bit as a squad because obviously he knows a lot of the players inside out," says Black.

"It is all about being on our toes and being ready."

He wasn't part of the squad which came away with what was an unexpected win at Edinburgh, but the lifeline last Friday's result has thrown the embattled province is one that Black intends to seize as Ulster bid for their first back-to-back PRO14 victories since November.

"The win (at Edinburgh) was a confidence boost but we can't dwell on it," Black states.

"Rory (Best) mentioned in training that we can train the way we did in the lead-up to Edinburgh, when we all trained well and then the team played well, but we just can't sit back and think it will happen again," says Black.

"It's about us raising the standards every day and hopefully it will show on Friday night."

It will be a somewhat downbeat exit for Black should Ulster not make any knockout rugby for a second successive season, but he accepts that the team is undergoing a restructure and, as such, is already looking to the future.

It would also be perfect if Black could sign off by claiming more than his solitary try in an Ulster shirt - which came on his 100th appearance back in February 2016 - but just getting the province through this traumatic season with some wins will suffice.

"I planned my first try for my 100th so I plan to get my second for my last game.

"It's really all in the timing," he quips.

Belfast Telegraph

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