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Eric O'Sullivan backed to be 'brilliant' for Ireland after Andy Farrell calls Ulster loosehead into Autumn Nations Cup squad

Ulster chief insists hard-working prop would shine on international stage

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Key role: Eric O’Sullivan (left) celebrates with Rob Lyttle after the winger’s try against Scarlets on Sunday night

Key role: Eric O’Sullivan (left) celebrates with Rob Lyttle after the winger’s try against Scarlets on Sunday night

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

Key role: Eric O’Sullivan (left) celebrates with Rob Lyttle after the winger’s try against Scarlets on Sunday night

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland believes Eric O'Sullivan is ready to make the step up to international rugby.

The prop has yet to feature in any national squad but has this morning been called into the Ireland panel to cover a loosehead shortage ahead of Sunday's Autumn Nations Cup clash with Georgia.

Thanks to an injury sustained by Leinster's Ed Byrne before the loss against England in Twickenham last weekend, Andy Farrell was forced to go into the game without a specialised back-up for Cian Healy.

In the end, Finlay Bealham was asked to do a job on his less familiar side of the scrum, while tighthead Andrew Porter went wire to wire in the defeat.

All the while, O'Sullivan, who turns 25 next week, has been a central figure in Ulster's seven-from-seven start to the Guinness PRO14 campaign.

Having started the season sharing time with Jack McGrath in the number one jersey, the Dublin native has started the last five, making his 50th appearance for the province against Glasgow earlier this month.

With the all-action style that betrays his teenage years spent in the back-row having endeared him to McFarland, the man who gave his senior debut back in 2018 believes he could be an asset to Ireland.

"If Eric is called upon, he'll do a brilliant job," said McFarland over the weekend.

"I don't know what Andy's thinking is or what the situation in the camp is but (O'Sullivan) has got a lot of games under his belt at a high level.

"He has had to start a lot of games recently. He didn't start the games before the break, Jack did but he's not been fit, Andy Warwick hasn't been fit, Kyle (McCall) had the birth of his baby last weekend so he couldn't come to Zebre."

Having gone from a player Ulster brought north to fill out an A team-sheet to a first-team regular, O'Sullivan has more than shown an ability to stuff a stat-sheet over the past two years, but it is that which doesn't show up in the numbers that most impresses McFarland about the former Leinster Under-20s player.

Take, for instance, his work at the ruck to secure the ball in the build up to Ulster's first score against Scarlets on Sunday night, or the sight of him sprinting up field to put pressure on Dane Blacker after a ball knocked over the top by John Cooney.

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"It's a really big point of difference," added McFarland of O'Sullivan's work-rate.

"He gets through more work than the vast majority of looseheads that I know of. I don't know of any that get through more.

"It's not work in terms of tackle numbers or carry numbers, but it's work of a type that you expect back-rowers to be good at, not prop

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Dan McFarland

Dan McFarland

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Dan McFarland

s.

"His movement in the defensive line, his kick-chase, getting to rucks when players are isolated.

"Last week (against Zebre) we took a quick penalty, a cross-field kick, I think it was to Gilly (Craig Gilroy) and he was all on his own, but Eric is running 50 metres to get there. There's no questions with him of whether he wants to do it, whether he's going to do it, whether he's going to put the effort in. He just sprints.

"The interesting thing (against Scarlets) was how good his carrying was. He had a good carry and offload last week, but this week we saw the hard yard carries that I was really impressed with.

"He's got to scrum and maul as well, remember. He works so hard to do well.

"He's a great person, a really, really good fella."

While impressed with O'Sullivan on Sunday night, McFarland was less thrilled with his side's overall performance despite the 26-24, bonus-point win.

"Obviously for anybody who measures stuff in outcomes, the result is excellent," he said. "We always knew they were going to be tough. In terms of the result, a bonus-point win is excellent.

"In terms of our performance, it's definitely the worst performance we've had this year. It was a bit of a curate's egg because we had some really top class stuff.

"When you flip it around, a little bit of smarts in the way that we played and controlled the game weren't great against them. We conceded a maul try which is just not good enough. That's something we'll have to work at."


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