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Sam Carter: Past Ulster stars were pivotal in my call to make move to Kingspan

 

Ulster second row Sam Carter
Ulster second row Sam Carter
Sam Carter

By Michael Sadlier

In one corner of the sizeable gym, an impromptu game of cricket has broken out involving Ulster's new signings as a bat and ball - the latter mercifully not of the type being fired around in the fourth Ashes Test - happen to be in the vicinity of the subterranean Kingspan facility.

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It seems an intrusion to drag Sam Carter away to fulfil his first meet-and-greet with the media since hooking up with Ulster from the Brumbies, but the soon to be 30-year-old Wallaby looks keen enough to move clear of potentially shipping any further slagging from his new team-mates regarding last month's dramatic Third Ashes Test at Headingly.

Though he has only been here since the summer, Carter had already acquired a certain level of knowledge about Ulster thanks to Brumbies' team-mates, and familiar names around these parts, Christian Leali'ifano and Henry Speight.

Both spent time here on short-term contracts and, along with Carter, have also now moved on from the Canberra-based Super Rugby franchise.

Naturally, their names crop up quickly enough as Carter prepares to make his Ulster debut on Saturday at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 1.30pm) in the first of two pre-season hit-outs with Glasgow Warriors.

"I spoke to both those guys and they both loved the passion over here," Carter admitted.

"They loved the way everyone cared, they loved the crowds, they loved the atmosphere, everything really, and it was something I wanted to get involved with.

"They were more than helpful in getting me here," added the lock.

Leali'ifano's call-up to the Wallabies' squad for the World Cup - the out-half will then actually play his rugby in Japan after the tournament - also gets an airing and, clearly, Carter is an admirer.

"It's incredible," the 16-time capped Wallaby says of Leali'ifano's impending World Cup trip.

"He (Leali'ifano) is a special person to have around and he was a real mentor at the Brumbies.

"I'm really happy to see where he is at the moment because he's earned everything he's got," he adds of Leali'ifano who conquered cancer to continue playing.

Which leads us onto Carter's stalled international career. He has not featured for Australia since 2017 and was part of the squad for the last World Cup.

The fact that his Brumbies coach Dan McKellar described him as the "forgotten man" in Michael Cheika's approach to assembling their World Cup squad, after the second row's stellar season for the Australian franchise, caused a bit of stir Down Under.

Without alluding to McKellar's comments - the Brumbies' season crashed and burned after being surprisingly hammered at the Jaguares in June's Super Rugby semi-final - Carter, instead, opts for a less direct approach to being continually snubbed by his national side.

"I never wanted to get comfortable where I was.

"I wanted to challenge myself over here and I think this place, with the competitive environment it has, is the best place for me to do that.

"It (leaving home) gives me a chance to prove myself over here in an environment I've never been before.

"I only met these guys (his Ulster team-mates) fairly recently, so I'm learning as I go, and with that you change and get better.

"That's what I'm hoping to do.

"I'll be doing everything I can to make sure we're doing well in that first block (of PRO14 games which start at the end of the month when Ulster host the Ospreys)."

Carter, who like fellow new signing Matt Faddes, played for the Barbarians against Fiji at the Kingspan in 2016, on an evening of torrential rain, then further explains why he and his wife decided to hop aboard a long-haul flight for the northern hemisphere.

"Watching them (Ulster) from afar for a bit, I liked what they were doing and the trajectory that they're on.

"I spoke to Dan (McFarland) and his kind of vision aligned with what I like in rugby clubs.

"So when the opportunity to come over here came up I grabbed it with both hands," said the strong scrummaging lock whose lineout presence and work-rate around the park mean that he should be quite an asset for the province in the wake of previous quality operators from overseas with Johann Muller and Justin Harrison springing to mind.

Mind you, it's not been easy going from one season, finishing at the end of June, into a pretty immediate move and pre-season this side of the equator.

"It's been challenging," he admitted.

"Firstly pretty much relocating my whole life and getting here, and then pretty much going straight into pre-season.

"I've never done it before, so I guess I'll see how I go.

"I'm just looking forward to doing the best I can here."

And with that, it's back to some cricket in the corner.

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