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McCall keen to lay down marker and kick off 2018 on high note


By Michael Sadlier

He was down to attend but didn't make it to the weekly media gathering which seemed rather ominous as Kyle McCall is apparently ready to return from an injury picked up in October.

The usual choreography when a player goes missing from the dreaded inquisition usually indicates that there may well be a problem regarding that individual's fitness for the game to come.

This time, though, it was made known that the reason for McCall's absence was due to nothing more than a slight clash of heads in that day's training with Rodney Ah You who, as it happens, is also on the comeback trail.

Hardly an auspicious start as McCall readies himself to play again. Still, he is up for it 24 hours later and, understandably, keen to get back on the pitch - though he may well be benched for the Munster game - and make a bright start to 2018 on an occasion which just so happens to be the day before he turns 26.

"We had a really good session on Thursday and it was something that we needed after Connacht," he said without referencing the head clash. "The session brought a bit of energy and a bit of physicality which I thought we lacked against Connacht and hopefully we can keep building that and bring it into Munster."

Ah yes, Munster. A sold-out Kingspan Stadium and a game with, seemingly, a lot riding on it regarding how things might pan out over the following few weeks with Les Kiss under pressure to deliver.

Funnily enough, McCall has yet to be on a losing side this term with his five games earlier this season all being victories and his last outing coming in the opening round of the Champions Cup when Ulster saw off Wasps.

That may be no bad thing as he will bring an outlook and experience which hasn't been tarnished by the recent wobbly, but largely winning, form, or indeed touched by the horrible Galway experience.

He was also involved the last time Ulster beat the southern province back in May 2014, when they snatched a 19-17 win in Limerick, which may also be a useful boost in the squad's self-belief.

"Monday will be the first of January, the start of 2018 and we really want to start it well," said the mobile loose-head prop without directly referencing the changed outlook since the tanking in Connacht. "Going into these four huge games, we need to start 2018 well to generate and then continue momentum."

Though he played no part in the thumping handed out to Ulster by the western province just before Christmas, he has his own viewpoint on why things went so awry last weekend.

"I think it was just the mindset really," stated the former Wallace High School pupil.

"As a squad we didn't enter the game the way we had set out to, it was about having a good start against Connacht and being mentally prepared to take them on and go after them in their own back yard, which we really didn't do."

As for the injury, it came about in the lead-up to Ulster's second round European game at La Rochelle - which turned out to be a 41-17 pasting - when he suffered a shoulder issue in training.

"I was meant to play against La Rochelle but in one of the training sessions I hurt my shoulder in a collapsed scrum so I had to pull out of the game," he explained before outlining how frustrating it has been to be out since then.

"I think it has been about 10 weeks since I have played.

"And I'm chomping at the bit to get back but just unfortunately with the shoulder it has taken a wee bit longer than I thought it would.

"But, look, I am back now and ready to put down a marker come Monday."

But McCall knows that the southern province will prove an enormous test for an Ulster side presumably still reeling from last weekend despite all the upbeat noises coming from within the camp.

"They are going really well at the minute and had two good wins in Europe against Leicester," he added.

"They are probably annoyed about losing to Leinster at home (on Boxing Day in what was a tub-thumping encounter) but they showed some really good aspects of their play especially in the second half (via their comeback).

"So Munster will be coming a bit wounded but it will be like ourselves after the Connacht game, they will be raring to go.

"And they will want to put it to us in our own back yard just like they did last year."

A win on New Year's Day would ease the immediate pressure on his Director of Rugby and bring McCall the ideal advance birthday present.

Now it's over to him and his team-mates to make that happen.

Belfast Telegraph

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