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Nick Timoney is relishing Ulster fight for success

 

By Jonathan Bradley

If his early weeks in the job are anything to go by, then it would appear Dan McFarland's coaching mantra is 'fight for every inch'.

It's a phrase uttered in each of his media briefings so far, indicative of the fight he is attempting to instil in a side that have often been accused of a somewhat brittle psyche.

You get the feeling that industrious back-rower Nick Timoney may well be just his sort of player.

The second half of the season-opening win over Scarlets on Saturday was only a little over a minute old when Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell took advantage of a missed tackle to burst through the Ulster line and send Ken Owens over under the posts.

The visitors trailed by two at the time, just as they would at the final blast of Marius Mitrea's whistle, but it seemed a foregone conclusion that they were about to take the lead.

Timoney though, using the well-documented speed that saw him make a success of sevens before focusing on the 15-man version of the game, chased back to make the opposing skipper's finish as awkward as he could. It seemed an academic act until the TMO intervened to check the grounding.

Much to the amusement of the Premier Sports team broadcasting the game, replays showed that Owens lacked anything that could be called a poker face, his frustrated expression revealing a knock-on and giving Ulster a reprieve.

The province have often spoken in recent seasons about the value of each and every match point on offer. Timoney's tackle was likely the difference between taking one and four.

"I didn't actually know he'd spilled it until he gave a pretty unconvincing claim to the ref," laughed Timoney. "I sort of smelled a rat from that point.

"I was pretty lucky. We don't want to rely on them dropping balls over the line, we have to stop them from getting there in the first place. I was happy obviously, but it was a stroke of luck.

"I was just trying to swing my body round to get under his. From behind, I can't really get to the ball, so I was just trying to stop him from putting it down cleanly. I was trying to haul him back a bit but really just trying to get my body between the ball and the ground.

"I think it's maybe overlooked how easy it is to get those knock-ons when a player is trying to ground the ball as opposed to a normal tackle when you're thinking about then releasing and trying to get the ball back. You're just trying to do what you can to force a mistake."

Winning an impressive turnover only three minutes later, Timoney's presence in the opening stages after the turn was all the more noticeable for it being the period in the game when Ulster struggled the most.

While these remain incredibly early days in a nascent season, there was already the feeling the recently turned 23-year-old had picked up right where he left off last season, a campaign that saw him win Ulster's Young Player of the Year award.

With Marcel Coetzee fit, Jean Deysel nearing the same status, and his fellow former Blackrock College man Jordi Murphy set to make his debut against Edinburgh on Friday evening, the Dubliner is adamant he won't be resting on his laurels.

"I think last year I had a season that surpassed what most people would have been expecting of me," he said.

"But the way I see it, there are loads of areas where I could improve in. The breakdown is an area that I was massively lacking in last year. Set-piece stuff, line of attack, are things that I've worked pretty hard on too.

"At my age you should be improving noticeably year-on-year. If I stay at the same level as last year I see that as pretty much going backwards.

"There's incredible competition in the back-row this season, for me personally I will have to play significantly better than I did last season to get a game.

"It's obviously what competition is in just wanting to beat other teams, but even to work hard just to get on the team will help to make us better.

"(Jordi) is a great addition and hopefully I'll get to play with him a bit this year."

Having already beaten one of the three teams that finished above them in Conference B last season, Ulster have the chance to repeat the feat come Friday night.

Edinburgh's visit to Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm kick-off), though, conjures bad memories for Timoney after the Scottish outfit inflicted a home reverse on his side back in February.

While Edinburgh ultimately finished six points ahead of the province in the standings, it was Duncan Weir's last-gasp drop goal that swung all the momentum their way in the battle for a play-off spot.

"We only lost twice at home last season so we definitely owe them one for that," added Timoney. "Obviously we don't like losing at home, we don't like losing at all, but it hurts (more), especially that way, with a drop goal in the last play of the game.

"So to get one back on them again would be pretty big for us, as they finished ahead of us for a play-off spot. It would be a pretty big one to beat them.

"It'll be a pretty big challenge but we're all looking forward to it. They'd a very impressive win record last year and they were very strong.

"(Richard) Cockerill obviously runs a pretty tight ship and they've some great individuals, they've some dangerous backs."

Meanwhile, Ulster have confirmed that loosehead prop Kyle McCall underwent elbow surgery that will keep him out of action for 12 weeks. The 26-year-old has had a torrid time with injuries of late, making just one appearance since the end of February.

Also unavailable are Tom O'Toole (concussion), Rory Best (hamstring), David Busby (knee), Jean Deysel (knee), Louis Ludik (hamstring), Luke Marshall (knee), Marty Moore (calf), Stewart Moore (knee), Tommy O'Hagan (perforated ear drum), Clive Ross (knee) and Jacob Stockdale (hamstring).

Ulster vs Edinburgh

Guinness PRO14 Championship

Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm

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