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I came back from Wasps a better player and man: Ulster's Marty Moore

 

By Jonathan Bradley

With the flight from Dublin to Birmingham a short one, Marty Moore's family became well acquainted with the hotel nearest the Ricoh Arena during his two-year spell with Wasps.

Indeed, by the end of his time in the midlands, the prop's nearest and dearest were on first name terms with the reception staff, saying their goodbyes back in May ahead of the 27-year-old's move closer to home with Ulster.

So it was both he and his relatives allowing themselves a chuckle when it was realised his first away game in his new side's colours was to be an immediate return to his old stomping ground for tonight's pre-season friendly against Dai Young's men (7.30pm kick-off).

"I just laughed," he recalled. "My family had been over at most home games when I was there. My grandparents were always over and they had said about my last game being their last trip. Two weeks later I rang them up and said, 'You know we have a game there in August?'

"I'll look forward to going back over, it should be an interesting game."

While the return to action of Marcell Coetzee after almost 12 months on the sidelines will naturally grab the headlines from an Ulster perspective this evening, Moore's first start in the No.3 jersey is significant too.

Given the emergence of Tadhg Furlong, and indeed even more recently Andrew Porter, it is easy to forget how much of a blow it seemed to Ireland's propping stocks when he made the move across the Irish Sea in 2016, the then-Leinsterman having won his 10 caps in the back-to-back Six Nations Championships earned by Joe Schmidt's men in 2014 and '15.

While the decision ultimately torpedoed his international chances for the past two seasons, he still believes his time in England means he has returned to these shores a better player than the one who left, and, indeed, a different person.

"It was really good and really formative for me as a rugby player and more so as a person even," he said. "Just a bit of growth, to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. I wouldn't change it for the world.

"It's not too far away but I expanded my horizons. We've started a family. We've a little one now who was born over there in January so I suppose a lot changes in a couple of years.

"The last time I was playing in Ireland, Aaron (Dundon) was playing with me in Leinster, Jared Payne was playing with Ulster. I came back and they're both my coaches with kids and I've got a child myself so a lot can happen in two years.

"I got to experience a different league, different coaching systems. There's a different way of doing things over there from the coaching to playing, so I'm glad I did it. Every week's a big learning week over there. There's no let up for you when you kind of feel like you're at a point where you can just motor along.

"It's always a new challenge even physically trying to get where you need to be, weight-wise and strength-wise. It's a very different type of league to the PRO14 as well so I feel like it's been a great couple of years of experience for me."

When the chance to come back closer to home came up, tonight's opponents were understanding, accepting Moore's ambitions to return to a green jersey. The man himself knows, however, that only strong performances in Belfast will see him get into the mix.

"When the opportunity arose to come back, it was just a good fit, it wasn't pre-planned. It arose and it seemed like the right thing to do," he said. "It was good timing. I was feeling like I wanted to be in the Irish system and make a go of it and possibly internationally again.

"I'm not in the (Ireland) pecking order. I haven't even played a game yet so all my focus is just on trying to play for Ulster. There's no point trying to think where I am in the standings because I don't think I'm in the ranks, so it's get a white shirt on me and see what I can do."

Like Moore, Will Addison will be making his first start in an Ulster jersey, the former Sale man having also appeared off the bench against Gloucester last weekend.

Both Billy Burns and Michael Lowry left that contest with injuries, so Johnny McPhillips makes a timely return, with Angus Curtis seemingly providing out-half cover off the bench.

With twice-capped centre Stuart McCloskey also back in the frame, it is a more experienced panel than the one that lost when hosting David Humphreys' side a week ago but 19-year-olds Stewart Moore and Angus Kernohan have both kept their places in the backline, while Eric O'Sullivan gets the nod at loosehead.

Meanwhile, Chris Ashton's tentative England comeback has already stalled after he was given a seven-week ban for a tip-tackle during Sale's pre-season friendly against Castres last Friday.

Ashton was sent off for the incident involving Rory Kockott, who was also shown a red card, and an independent disciplinary hearing held at Twickenham yesterday afternoon found him guilty despite the charge being contested.

Before the hearing, Sale boss Steve Diamond insisted Ashton's action was fully justified as it was in "self defence" amid suggestions of eye-gouging.

The suspension means the 31-year-old, who has moved to Manchester from Toulon, will miss the first six games of Sale's league season and England's training camp in Bristol in late September, robbing him of time to impress Eddie Jones.

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