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Robert Baloucoune: I'm focused on continuing fine form with Ulster and if that leads to Ireland call then so be it


In hand: Robert Baloucoune was in sparkling form for Ulster pre-lockdown

In hand: Robert Baloucoune was in sparkling form for Ulster pre-lockdown

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Claire McLaughlin

Claire McLaughlin

�INPHO/James Crombie

In hand: Robert Baloucoune was in sparkling form for Ulster pre-lockdown

It maybe doesn't quite make the cut as a genuine morsel of trivia but is still worth some attention if just in passing.

The last Ulster player to plant the ball over an opposition try line prior to Covid-19's hefty incursion was none other than the speedy Robert Baloucoune.

His early second-half try back on February 22 in the win over the Cheetahs at Kingspan Stadium further reinforced Baloucoune's emergence as a quality strike runner as it was the Enniskillen player's sixth try from eight matches and the third consecutive game which had seen him dot down.

Even though there was already growing anxiety around how the pandemic might impact all aspects of life, few anticipated that this would be the last time Ulster would be seen prior to next weekend's scheduled first round of interpro games - Ulster are to meet Connacht on August 23 at the Aviva Stadium - as an attempt is made to bring last season to completion, albeit in truncated form, before a new campaign theoretically begins.

With Baloucoune having been in such sparkling form, to move from a regular pattern of training, playing and scoring to living his life in lockdown brought everything to a juddering halt for the young player, who has made waves since making his debut nearly two years ago as a raw 21-year-old nurtured by the Ireland Sevens programme.

"It was frustrating and not ideal whenever you are in form," was the soon-to-be 23-year-old's outlook on how the season came to an abrupt end.

"I had been feeling a bit more confident in training (before lockdown) but I just have to try and bring that back and now work hard in training.

"So it's just trying to build that up again and being able to just back yourself to play like that again," added Baloucoune, who has togged out in 21 games for his province and scored 12 times.

"It's been a weird time but I've also enjoyed it because it has given me time to reflect.

"I've been able to focus a bit more on myself like even being able to go to the park and doing just a bit of one-on-one passing with one of my friends or focusing on my kicking and kick-chase, so it's given me time to buy into my finer details."

Indeed, Baloucoune has already been on Ireland coach Andy Farrell's radar and has been present at training camps with the national squad which, in turn, has given some traction to the notion that he may get an outing in this autumn's crowded Test schedule.

The possibility of a first senior Ireland cap is, naturally, batted away and, anyway, there is a lot of business to be done at Ulster, with possible knockout games to come next month as the Guinness PRO14 completes last season and, of course, a European Champions Cup quarter-final at Toulouse still to be played.

"I'll be trying my best to play for Ulster first off, and then if that leads to getting the call for Ireland then it does," he said.

"I'll just focus on these next two (interpro) games and whatever happens after that, and then the Champions Cup, so I'm just fighting for a starting spot (at Ulster)."

When with Ireland, Farrell gave the young winger a few pointers which, naturally, he has taken on board, along with the more regular pointers that come his way while at Ulster.

"He (Farrell) talked about reacting and using my speed and just making that call early and when to go and when to kick it," he said.

"So it's more just reading the game and trying to be one step ahead. It's more about being an option and seeing the play happen before it happens. It's the hardest skill, and it grows with the more training you do."

This season will hopefully be completed, though that is by no means certain, and therefore bring further opportunity for Baloucoune's progression towards becoming more of an all-rounder - he can already score and tackle - in terms of what he can do when in possession of the ball.

And when Ulster can deploy him alongside Jacob Stockdale, then they have two-thirds of a dangerous and high-quality back three.

"I've made quick progression since I've joined and I just want to be pushing for a starting place and get more game time," said Baloucoune.

"I want to get more involved and get my hands on the ball.

"It's also about using my kicking so if I can grubber a guy for the line or chip it over him and regather then that is another option.

"It's just about having the confidence to then back it up during games.

"If I can get my performances in there, whatever happens after that I'll be backing myself to do myself justice."

There ought to be more high achievement to come.

Belfast Telegraph