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Overwhelming Ireland debut has left Treadwell hungry for Ulster success


By Jonathan Bradley

If Ulster's Kieran Treadwell was among the hordes of children who returned to school this week, the young lock would surely be heading back to class with a report card instructing him to 'keep up the good work'.

The 21-year-old arrived at Kingspan Stadium in the summer of 2016 from London side Harlequins boasting a reputation as a promising forward who could be considered one for the future.

But after an impressive first season in Ulster that saw him rack up 21 senior appearances, he is now very much being counted on as one for the present, and not just by Ulster but Ireland too.

Born in Sutton, and having represented both Ireland and England at Under-18 level before focusing solely on the Red Rose come Under-20s, so quickly establishing himself at provincial level brought an equally rapid Test debut in Ireland green against Japan back in June.

It was just two days shy of a year ago, ironically against Treviso who will also be his opposition tomorrow, that Treadwell was handed his debut by Les Kiss, starting the game in the Stadio di Monigo alongside the now departed Franco van der Merwe in the side's engine room.

As he adjusted to the rigours of senior rugby and all that is required at this level, he would have to wait for a second start though, it eventually arriving only in the festive inter-pros.

Having represented Surrey in the 400m hurdles as a schoolboy, he boasted a new body shape come the eve of 2017 and from that point on he was a fixture in Ulster's second row until season's end.

Rewarded with a call-up to Joe Schmidt's young squad for the summer tour to USA and Japan, he made his bow as a replacement for the experienced Devin Toner in the 50th minute of the first game against the Brave Blossoms. Having performed well in his half hour of action in Ecopa Stadium, he followed up that opening salvo with a first start against the same opposition seven days later.

Having had two months to process the memorable trip, it's still an experience he struggles to put into words.

"It was overwhelming to be honest," he said. "For a young guy like myself, in my first season at Ulster, I wouldn't have thought that an Ireland debut was going to be on the cards (so soon).

"My goal for last year was to be playing week in, week out for Ulster. The performances obviously came to fruition but I'm still young, I'm still learning, so hopefully I can just do the same this year and keep kicking on.

"I just went out on that tour to be a sponge, soaking in as much as I can.

"It was good to be in that environment with Joe Schmidt. Working with Simon (Easterby, forwards coach) too, he's very specific about second-row play, back-row play. They know a lot of stuff.

"Learning from Devin Toner as well. Devin is very good with all that technical detail. He was very good and very patient which is great for someone like me."

Spending his summer in the country that will host the 2019 World Cup, and winning two caps against a Japan side that Ireland will meet in the pool stages of that competition, will naturally have focused the mind somewhat though, and Treadwell admits that he hopes to add to his cap total over the coming season.

"Last season, I think the preparation was the big change for me," he said. "When I was at Quins, I didn't have the opportunity to get that week on week preparation.

"Reviewing what you've done right, what you've done wrong, and then moving on quickly and getting into the next week.

"This season though, I think I don't have to be changing that much. My goal is still the same as before, I want to perform week in, week out for Ulster.

"Hopefully everything then looks after itself in terms of national selection. I do want to get a few more caps obviously.

"You're hungry for more (after your first) but I've just got to keep performing.

"You're only as good as your last game."

For Treadwell, that last game came 11 weeks ago in Tokyo and, after having to watch on as a spectator when Ulster opened up their season with a six-try bonus-point win over the Cheetahs a week ago, he is understandably keen to get out there against Treviso.

"I'm itching for it because it's been a long pre-season," he said. "I just can't wait to put the jersey on again.

"It was different having to watch Cheetahs because I was back into full training last week.

"But it was a full squad victory. Even the second team, when we were training against the first team, were on fire.

"Even the boys that weren't selected put in 100% to make sure everyone was firing. We have the individuals but for us it's about coming together as a collective.

"The prep is key, to get that first 15 right, so it really felt like a win for all involved."

Tomorrow's visit to northern Italy should prove to be a very different encounter.

While last week's 42-19 scoreline had the look of something more readily associated with the Super Rugby competition left behind by the Cheetahs, the more muscular, and certainly less pacy, Treviso will pose a very different type of threat.

Treadwell believes, however, that Ulster will approach the game in much the same way.

"You say that (Treviso are a different proposition) but the preparation is the same," he said. "We focus on ourselves. They have a good team, you could see that in their second half against Munster last week.

"We've got to put in a big performance again. We want that snowball effect. We'll take each week as it comes and get better week on week."

It's a similar mantra that Treadwell himself managed to stick to with considerable aplomb just a season ago.

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