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I'm hungry for more big European nights, says McBurney

Harlequins v Ulster, Heineken Champions Cup - Pool Three, Twickenham Stoop, Friday, 7.45pm

On mission: Adam McBurney wants to make an even greater impact for Ulster
On mission: Adam McBurney wants to make an even greater impact for Ulster
Adam McBurney
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Despite his presence having been heavily felt in the closing stages of Saturday's dramatic win over Harlequins, Ulster hooker Adam McBurney was keen to downplay his own contribution.

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Having entered the fray with Ulster nine points in arrears and only a quarter of the game to go, the province's European campaign was threatening to veer dramatically from its promising course.

In two telling late moments, though, McBurney would prove crucial in setting the stage for John Cooney's 79th-minute game-winning penalty.

First, the 23-year-old scored from the back of a thundering rolling maul, and then he was tackled off the ball by Fijian international Tevita Cavubati, which drew the decisive blast of Mike Adamson's whistle.

"I think I've been getting a lot more credit than I deserve for that try," he said ahead of the reverse fixture against the same opposition on Friday night (7.45pm kick-off).

"Looking back, Sean Reidy especially did well, and there were a couple of other boys that were incredible just to get me over the line.

"It was a massive moment. A lot of boys put in a lot of hard work but I'll happily take the credit."

The key penalty was an offence so blatant that McBurney was signalling to Adamson mid-tackle that he had been illegally upended.

"I think if (the appeal) was too bad the TMO might have given me the yellow card," he said. "I think it was okay.

"He took me out in fairness. It was a credit to our shape, I suppose, that we were playing. Cooney was the man to step up - he's been doing that quite well these days."

McBurney's only prior Ulster try came as a consolation effort for a much-changed side in a heavy defeat to Leinster in the RDS Arena last season.

Benefiting from more game time in the wake of Rory Best's retirement, the contrast between Saturday and what had gone before was stark.

"It was incredible," he said. "We had a lineout, and Hendy (Iain Henderson) called it and I couldn't hear him. I hadn't played in anything like that in my whole career, the atmosphere and the buzz of the week. That's what is so special about European nights here and that's my first real feel of it.

"It gives you that bite to want to be involved in more of them. It's everything you dreamed of as a young kid wanting to play here and I'm just thankful for the opportunity. I just want to keep pushing forward.

"I obviously don't want to be stuck in the 16 shirt (forever). I'm thankful to be in matchday squads but I also want to get that No.2 on my back.

"I'm not going to sit back now that Rory has gone. Rory left a massive legacy in that shirt but I want to go on and add my own to it."

McBurney was another who was part of the Ireland Under-20s side that beat the Baby Blacks on the way to a World Cup final in 2016, the same squad from which Jacob Stockdale, James Ryan and Andrew Porter were soon promoted to senior duty.

While that trio were in Japan to begin the season, there's been a second influx of the panel making an impact in the Guinness PRO14, with McBurney and Bill Johnston at Ulster and Will Connors, Max Deegan, Conor O'Brien and Hugo Keenan seeing time at Leinster.

"I had a great experience with that 20s group," added McBurney. "Seeing them doing so well, I'm really happy for them.

"It's a great set-up to put your foot forward and show what you can do, and if your province backs you after that it's even better, it can get you in the professional door. It's really good to see everyone doing so well."

That goes for Ulster in Europe too, at the halfway stage the province having beaten all three of their pool opponents to sit top of the group. With Friday's trip to Harlequins followed by a visit to Clermont and the hosting of Bath in January, McBurney is seeking perfection.

"We're three out of three and ecstatic with that, but if we get complacent and just happy with that, we'll get turned over at The Stoop. We have to be five to 10% better again, especially for the away games in Europe," he said.

"We have two away games now and it is a massive test to go away in Europe. We know we have to keep getting better, we just can't be happy with three from three, and if we want to get a home quarter-final we need to win all our games, it's as simple as that."

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