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Ulster must finish European job to reach quarter-finals at Leicester: Treadwell

 

Powerhouse: Kieran Treadwell on the charge against Racing 92
Powerhouse: Kieran Treadwell on the charge against Racing 92
At Kingspan Stadium

By Michael Sadlier

All the grafting on the training paddock and around the gym has clearly been paying off. After all, this has, so far, been a strong season for Kieran Treadwell.

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We have already encountered Treadwell setting up tries, his lung-burning burst against the Dragons back in October helping put Stuart McCloskey away, and scoring them, as was seen against Cardiff Blues at the start of December, but the tackles have been going in too.

You would hardly expect a towering lock to be putting down many back three players but, there he was, last Saturday, with Simon Zebo in his sights.

The assumption would have always been that there was only one winner in that contest.

But Treadwell is anything but run of the mill. He sized Zebo up last weekend as early as the 18th minute and pulled off a great tackle on the former Ireland and Munster player just as he was contemplating making an impact for Racing 92 who, at that point, were 13-0 down.

Treadwell's performances have been getting more noticeable of late which is some going considering he has been involved in all but one of Ulster's games this season.

Though maybe not as abrasive in contact as regular second row partner Alan O'Connor, the athletic Treadwell, who was born and raised in Surrey, has those extra dimensions to his game which have helped bring the 23-year-old Irish-qualified player three international caps.

Though his last Ireland appearance was in November 2017 when he came off the bench against Fiji, suggesting he is hardly featuring too largely on Joe Schmidt's radar, Ulster have been benefiting from the improving accuracy and energy of his work.

Not that Ireland issues are concerning him now anyway, rather the need to win at Leicester Tigers on Saturday to ensure that Ulster get through to Europe's last eight for the first time in five years.

Funnily enough, Treadwell is clearly wary of this game and doubtless recalls how Ulster's European season badly unravelled on the final day of pool games last year at Wasps, resulting in the double whammy of crashing out of the competition and finishing Les Kiss's time in Belfast.

Still, at least his parents will be in attendance at Welford Road to, hopefully, witness something special for their son, who joined Ulster in summer 2016 from Harlequins.

"It's not really something I think about," he says when asked if going back to play in England is a factor in how he is approaching this contest.

"The only good thing (about playing in England) is that my parents get to go and watch the game, which is important for them," adds Treadwell.

As for him, well, winning and getting to taste knockout rugby in Europe is a pretty big incentive from what will be his first ever time playing at Welford Road after previously visiting there as a travelling sub.

"It would mean everything to get to the quarter-finals," Treadwell directly states, before getting quickly back on message.

"But we are a team that focus week on week and nothing really changes week on week. We know what Leicester bring, but we do focus on ourselves.

"It is a hostile place to go, but we just have to create our own buzz within the team."

Even though the Tigers are out of the running, they have a chance, should they triumph, of not finishing bottom of Pool Four while, more importantly, Geordan Murphy will likely want to put out a strong side at home with a view to building towards returning to their Premiership campaign.

"Leicester have (like Racing) a massive pack," says Treadwell. "They are powerful but probably don't have as much of an offloading game as Racing.

"We have got to prepare ourselves to be ready for the physical battle up front."

He also does the basics pretty well too. Robert Baloucoune's try last weekend, Ulster's first of the afternoon, was forged from Treadwell's lineout win before the ball was given width.

And Treadwell was Ulster's main lineout target in terms of successful wins though, not for the first time, these set-piece plays did suffer some damage with four lost on the province's own throw against Racing.

Such profligacy, if repeated, could prove very costly at Welford Road as Ulster go in search of the win they need.

"The whole team, not just the forwards in the lineouts, we trust ourselves and make sure we can get our stuff done well," says Treadwell.

"We have worked on our drill to make sure we are the best we can be to get there," he adds of this week's task.

Backing it all up is now the key as Ulster continue functioning without key forward Iain Henderson.

"That was a big win for us," Treadwell admits of the Racing result before dealing with Saturday's challenge.

"It is going to be a tough place to go and get the win, but we have to focus on ourselves.

"The job is only half done. We have the second half to get done on Saturday."

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