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It's time Ulster stopped talking and started performing, admits Andrew Trimble

 

By Jonathan Bradley

At some point over the course of this coming season, barring a catastrophic turn of events for the Ireland winger, Andrew Trimble will break the record for most appearances in an Ulster jersey.

Sat just five caps behind the now-retired Roger Wilson, the 32-year-old could even claim the record by the end of next month, so it's fair to say when it comes to the matter of Ulster Rugby, there are few men with a better grasp of the lay of the land around Kingspan Stadium.

Flanked by three new team-mates as the province launched their new home and away kits before tonight's pre-season friendly with English giants Wasps (7.30pm kick-off), the man who made his debut in 2005 was left as the only player present able to field both the most obvious and pressing question ahead of the new campaign.

Just why will this season be any different to the last? And the one before that? And the one before that?

Back in May, the province concluded what was their most uninspiring campaign since 2010, finishing bottom of their European Champions Cup pool and missing out on the domestic play-offs.

As one of only three players in the squad who have ever won a trophy with Ulster, Trimble knows fans have run out of tolerance for clichés about learning from their disappointments in the ongoing bid to end what is now an eleven-season silverware drought.

"A lot of people, you guys included, are sick of hearing our intentions, our goals, our aspirations and what we want to achieve," he admitted.

"To be honest, we are sick of talking about it too, so everybody is looking forward to getting into the season and getting things going on the pitch.

"That's the only place we can fulfil a bit of the potential that we have.

"Last year we didn't get to the standard we demand of ourselves or that the press and supporters demand from us.

"That expectation is because there is a lot of talent in this team and we didn't show it enough last season.

"We want to stop talking about it and start achieving things."

And while it has been a far from ideal off-season for Les Kiss' side, players have already spoken enthusiastically about the impact they believe incoming head coach Jono Gibbes can make, with Trimble the latest to endorse the former Leinster and Clermont man's credentials as something of a hard taskmaster.

Gibbes, who was a forwards specialist at the RDS before assisting Clermont to last season's Top14 title, is just one of a raft of coaching changes made below Kiss, with Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon also added to a ticket that has lost Joe Barakat, Neil Doak and Allen Clarke since last season began.

Indeed, with back-rower Jean Deysel (right) the only new signing in tonight's 32-strong match-day squad, the lion's share of curiosity will focus on the coaches' box.

"He sets very high standards and he is very clear in his communications of what he requires," said Trimble of the eight-time All Black Gibbes.

"There is never any confusion and you know exactly what you have to achieve in a session, you know what is required in every role of phase play and also the set-piece as well.

"It's a good place to be and it's exciting.

"He has definitely cracked the whip and has made sure we know what is expected of us and the standard we have to be at.

"All the boys are buying into that."

Admitting that at this time last year he was still finding his feet as a captain having taken over from Rory Best, the Coleraine man says that he would relish the chance to keep the armband going into this campaign, especially important given that Best, Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson will all miss the start of the Guinness PRO14.

"This time last year I found it quite daunting and it took me a few weeks to get into the habit of what was expected, when something was to be said and when to just keep my mouth shut and lead by example," he said.

"Now I have had that experience, I absolutely love it and thrive off it and I feel it was something I grew into.

"A massively important aspect of what we are trying to do this year is that mental capacity to be able to cope with things when they aren't going well and to be able to dig deep and execute when under pressure."

While tonight's friendly against Wasps will be the first real test on the lungs, it is the PRO14 opener against Cheetahs on September 1 that Trimble is already looking towards.

That fixture, the first to involve a South African side after the competition's revamp this summer, is certain to attract plenty of outside attention given the opposition, but for Trimble it is merely vital his Ulster get off to a winning start.

"Any time we have started well we have gone on a good run and we have tended to maintain that," he said, perhaps with last season's five-game winning streak to start the season in mind.

"If we have to play catch-up at any stage, we put ourselves under pressure, we go into our shells and we tighten up.

"That brings out the worst in us.

"I think we express ourselves better and execute better whenever we get ourselves into position.

"The Cheetahs at home is going to be a tough start, those boys are going to be fit as fiddles, they play a high pace and throw the ball about and we need to get off to a good start."

For many still stung by last season's slide towards the mediocre, it'll be how they finish that matters.

Ulster: L Ludik; A Trimble, C Patterson, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; B Herron, P Marshall; C Black, J Andrew, W Herbst; P Browne, A O'Connor; C Ross, C Henry, N Timoney. Replacements: R Herring, A McBurney, A Warwick, K McCall, R Ah You, J Simpson, R Diack, J Deysel, C Montgomery, M Rea, A Cairns, D Shanahan, P Nelson, T Bowe, C Piutau, J Owens, D Busby.

Wasps: R Miller; M Watson, B Macken, G Lovobalavu, J Bassett; D Cipriani, C Hampson; S McIntyre, A Johnson, J Cooper-Wooley; W Rowlands, K Myall; J Willis, G Thompson, A Reider.

Replacements: T Cruse, B Harris, P Doran-Jones, Matt Symons, M Garratt, A Harris, D Robson, J de Jongh, G Armitage, C Wade, O James.

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