Belfast Telegraph

McComish ready for Ulster v Munster

By Michael Sadlier

Today is shaping up to be another chance to show his worth. After a fortnight on Ulster Ravens duty, which meant he missed out on the back-to-back Heineken Cup clashes with Northampton, Mike McComish is back in the squad for Thomond Park.

The 29-year-old back rower has certainly clocked up some impressive mileage this season having been involved in 12 of Ulster’s 15 games so far, four matches more than he managed throughout the whole of last season which was his first back in Belfast since time away honing his trade with Rotherham, Otley and then Connacht.

“There is competition for places all over the park and it’s great to be involved in that,” is his take on his greater game-time in Mark Anscombe’s first campaign with Ulster.

“You come into training on a Monday and you know you’ve got to train really well.

“That’s the big difference in my second season back, just the standard in training and it’s a great environment to be in,” McComish adds.

Of course a winning squad is always likely to be a happier one but so is a more involved group of players who feel that they are contributing and also pushing for inclusion in the match day side. From McComish’s point of view there has been a sea change but from all parties involved.

“I think there has been a change in emphasis from the players but the change in coach has also been a massive factor,” he states.

To illustrate the point he draws on what happened in the week after Northampton had become the first side to beat Ulster this season.

“We sat down with Mark and the message was that it was the same squad which had won at Franklin’s Gardens the week before and just because we’d lost a game it didn’t make us a bad rugby team.

“It was just a matter of us having to train well during the week and get back on the horse,” McComish explained before emphasising the importance of the entire set-up and the focus on hard graft reaping rewards.

“You’ve got Neil Doak and Jonny Bell under Mark and I’ve nothing but praise for those guys. They work very hard and you get good one-to-ones with them, it’s a really good set up.”

Regardless as to how many front-liners Munster could be missing on Saturday evening, McComish is experienced enough to know what is heading Ulster’s way.

“It’s going to be an abrasive, tight game,” he says.

“I’ve played there a few times with Connacht and at underage level and there’s a very partisan crowd down there.

“Having been there and knowing what it’s about is a bit of a help as such but it’s never easy going down there.

“We’re going there with an unbeaten record in the league and it’s up to us to back that up,” says the player whose father Graham also played for Ulster.

Beating Munster in last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final was the game when the then Brian McLaughlin-coached Ulster really announced themselves as a coming force.

Despite the heavy defeat to Leinster in May’s final, McComish believes that, this season, the squad have kicked on to bring a greater consistency to their game.

“We’ve played all the Welsh regions this year and we haven’t lost a game.

“Last year when we played them away we didn’t win a game but now we’re able to pull off performances away from home as well. It’s obviously great that we’ve had this big change.”

With Christmas hardly being a massive disruption for the professional players — “We normally get a day off anyway during our normal week so I can’t see that being a factor,” is his viewpoint — the entire focus will be on replicating what was achieved at Ravenhill last week when Leinster’s colours were downed.

“With it being an interprovincial the intensity is very high and we’ll be prepared,” is how McComish sees this week’s run-in for the PRO12 leaders who currently lead the way nine points clear of the Scarlets who conveniently fell to the Ospreys on Thursday.

While winning silverware is still a mere aspiration, there is a nagging hunger to get there.

“It’s been a long time since silverware has been brought back here and I certainly want to win something in my career.”

At this point, McComish’s aim is still in good shape.

Meanwhile, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe is expected to make extensive changes to his side when he reveals the selection to take on Munster tonight in Limerick (kick-off 5.30).

With a combination of squad members attending this week's Ireland get-together and the need for the Ulster coach to rest some of his frontliners — ahead of next week's meeting with the Scarlets and then a final fortnight of critical European pool action — it had already been made clear that a very different looking side was likely to get the chance to have a tilt at Munster.

Rory Best, Chris Henry, Iain Henderson, Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble and the injured Stephen Ferris were all at Declan Kidney's gathering at Carton House, in Co Kildare, which ended today.

However, it is thought that one player — believed to be Gilroy — may be available to hook up with his Ulster team-mates at Thomond Park.

Elsewhere, Lewis Stevenson is likely to make a welcome return to the starting side after time out with injury while Niall O’Connor and Adam D’Arcy are also believed to be featuring in Anscombe’s new-look side.

Belfast Telegraph

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