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Rob Lyttle has part to play after fulfilling Ulster dream

By Michael Sadlier

Two images. One of a boy with a dream, the other a young man just beginning to put some shape into everything he had hoped for. Both frozen moments in time and yet they seem to capture the very essence of what has driven 19-year-old Rob Lyttle to this point.

The first is a picture taken at the start of September, when he came off the bench early for Craig Gilroy to make his competitive senior Ulster debut against the Dragons, and has him twisting himself over to score his second try and Ulster's fourth of the night.

It shows Lyttle, with his hair flying, contorting every sinew of his upper body to somehow bend himself around the corner flag - while his lower half heads off in a different direction towards touch - to just get the ball down.

But then there is the other picture, a snap taken nearly a decade ago, which now seems like the logical starting point of the journey the Ulster Academy player has made.

"I came down here from no age watching the rugby with my parents and all I ever wanted to do was play for Ulster," he says smiling at what is about to come.

"I can remember coming here with my primary school, Maralin, in P7 for a mini rugby tournament and I got my photo taken with Andrew Trimble.

"I felt this was the greatest thing ever.

"I actually think I still have it at home, and my mum has it somewhere, so I must pull it out and show it to him (Trimble)."

The tale isn't told to embarrass Trimble - who is a fairly sizeable 13 years older than Lyttle - but rather to emphasise how a star-struck young boy's hopes have been fulfilled with a propulsion which, though it has been frighteningly rapid, has, nevertheless, still been an adequate reflection of the former Methodist College pupil's skills-set.

And as for that spectacular try against the Dragons, when he still had so much work to do after collecting Charles Piutau's pass, Lyttle could have just shrugged his shoulders and said he just tried to stay in play. Instead, he offers his own insight.

"I watch a lot of NRL (National Rugby League) videos on Youtube," states the Donaghcloney native. "You see boys like Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and they do it every week so I thought I would do it myself."

Less spectacular, but just as attention-grabbing, was last Friday's effort when Lyttle - who wasn't even originally in the match-day squad - was again sprung from the bench early on against Munster after Darren Cave went down.

Ulster had been hammering away at the Munster line when a loose ball was kicked in his direction. The Queen's player scooped it up and then tore through Tommy O'Donnell and Ian Keatley before, and with one arm out-stretched, he saluted his own effort while diving over at the posts.

His try showed just how dangerous Lyttle can be if given the ball with an opportunity to run.

When it comes to tries he has been in rich form. The score in last Friday's defeat to Munster was his third PRO12 touchdown in seven appearances, making him Ulster's leading finisher in the league.

And before his brace in that first league appearance against the Dragons, Lyttle - who is just as comfortable at full-back as on the wing - had already bagged three, one in the pre-season game with Leinster and two during the friendly at Exeter.

And that's not all as Lyttle also possesses an accurate boot with his kicking skills being showcased in the pre-season hit-out with Northampton when he kicked four from four - three conversions and a penalty.

"At this level it is all about having wee bits to your game," he says of his place-kicking.

"That can get you picked ahead of people, so I'll just keep working on it."

He may yet have a pop at goal tomorrow evening against Edinburgh, though Ruan Pienaar is the likely kicker at Murrayfield when Ulster will be eager to avoid a third straight league defeat.

Not bad for a player who, though he had been 24th man a few times last season, had still reckoned that his primary duties in this campaign would mostly involve togging out for Ulster 'A' in between more regular pitch-time at Queen's in the All-Ireland League.

True, but Lyttle knows that this is only the start and that exploding onto the senior scene, and rubbing shoulders with the squad's star players, over the last couple of months means nothing when a new challenge has to be faced every week.

"The start of the season was great for me individually, and for the team, but sport is all about ups and downs," he says referring to being part of the defeats against Connacht, Bordeaux and Munster.

"You just take your chance to sub or start and just enjoy it while it lasts.

"At the minute we are going through a frustrating period but we have a game coming up and a chance to put all that behind us.

"A big performance and a bonus point win would do the team the world of good going into the break," Lyttle adds.

And another impressive addition to the photo collection wouldn't go amiss either.

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