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Ulster's James Hume relives big Benetton tackle and looks ahead to bigger future

 

By Michael Sadlier

It looked to be a certain try as Italy international Tommaso Benvenuti stepped inside James Hume and made his way over the line late in the first half, as all over the fly-infested field Ulster were crumbling at Benetton.

For centre Hume, this looked a truly horrible moment on what was his first start in the senior side at the beginning of the month, following two earlier bench appearances.

But the 20-year-old was determined to still try and hit the unsuspecting Benvenuti.

He not only got back to tackle the Benetton winger but, somehow, prevented the over 50-times capped international from planting the ball over the try line by wrenching it out of his grasp and forcing a knock-on.

And the youngster picked his moment as this incident unfolded just before the half-time whistle was sounded.

Had Benvenuti managed to do what just about everyone assumed was going to happen, it would have been a huge psychological blow to Ulster and allowed the Italians to put some distance between themselves and their visitors on the scoreboard, turning a narrow 7-3 lead into what might have been 14-3.

It clearly demonstrated Hume's steely determination not to yield, even though he had just badly missed a tackle in a critical area of the park.

And this was no drill, his last-ditch tackle was about throwing his body into a situation which he never looked like winning, but the outcome was worth the gamble as one of the team's least experienced players had shown the others that Ulster were not going to fold and that he has much to offer.

The Ulster Academy player doesn't recall too much about the incident which, as things turned out, proved to be a pivotal moment as straight after the game restarted, Sean Reidy got over for a vital score and the visitors never trailed again as they just about managed to earn four points from the encounter.

"I just remember screaming on my inside because there was so much space," Hume recalls.

"Tredders (Kieran Treadwell) was there to cover," says the former RBAI pupil who played a key part in the three-times winning Schools' Cup team.

"I actually missed the initial tackle and I don't think Dan (McFarland) and JP (Jared Payne) were happy about it, but we got away with it.

"We always back ourselves and we all have our inside but, to be honest, if Tredders hadn't been there inside me I probably wouldn't have backed myself," he modestly adds.

Hume ended that game with 15 tackles to his name, though he actually made three more in last weekend's 29-12 defeat at the Scarlets after being retained for a second consecutive starting appearance.

Despite that momentary blip in Treviso, when he immediately redeemed himself, Hume has looked increasingly comfortable at this level, though the Ulster midfield is about to get that bit more crowded with Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik and Darren Cave all potentially in the frame to start at centre either this weekend at home to Cardiff Blues or the next one when Ulster begin their European back-to-back rounds with the Scarlets.

"For me, with the internationals coming back in, I don't know how many opportunities I'm going to get," the powerfully-built outside centre admits rather honestly.

The learning curve has been steep, but Hume has pretty much taken it in his stride while absorbing information all the time.

"It hasn't been that long (his first game off the bench was in the tanking at Munster, not long after he turned 20) but it feels like (I've made) a long journey in a short couple of months," he says.

"Getting that first opportunity (to start), I tried to take it and I've benefited from getting a couple more shots."

Along with former fellow RBAI team-mate Michael Lowry and Enniskillen winger Robert Baloucoune, Ulster have been prepared to blood young players early as they continue the rebuilding process under McFarland's watch.

For Hume, the rollercoaster rise is both beneficial in the short-term and, he reckons, is sure to be advantageous looking further down the line.

"Exposing us to this at this age is going to clearly make us a lot more experienced when we're older," he says.

"It's just playing with those players around you is just so beneficial, and even when you're going to an Academy session you can see that your energy is contagious to the other players and then those Academy players can start getting better. I think it benefits everyone."

Playing alongside Billy Burns, and having McCloskey and then Ludik as centre partners, is also cited as vital to settling at this level.

"They know what they're doing and they're a great help," says Hume.

"I'm not afraid to ask them questions and they help me along the way so it's great."

And the standard of communication from the coaches has been on a higher level too, all contributing to Hume being tipped as a star of the future.

"I do feel a lot more comfortable (after, including the Uruguay game, three consecutive starts in the Ulster shirt)," he says.

"You come in on Monday and you just iron out those problems that you've had in the game with JP, and he is so experienced that it makes you feel comfortable in what you're doing."

The pressure to perform isn't quite there yet, as Hume is still finding his way.

"Yes, it's not so much pressure, it's 'let's go again, this is another opportunity here'," is how he puts it.

Having said that, he has been star-struck at being exposed to Guinness PRO14 action just over a year after leaving school.

"The lead-up to my first start I really didn't think about it a lot and then we were about to kick off and I was just like 'Oh my God, I'm playing for Ulster here', so I do have to pinch myself sometimes," he laughs.

"It's massive (for me and my family).

"Hopefully I'll just push on."

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