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Ulster's late starter Robert Baloucoune excited to line up alongside senior duo against Munster

Ulster vs Munster; Guinness PRO14; Kingspan Stadium, Tomorrow, 7.35pm

Dangerous mix: Robert Baloucoune has faith in Ulster’s back three
Dangerous mix: Robert Baloucoune has faith in Ulster’s back three

By Michael Sadlier

Robert Baloucoune was handling quite a spread of subject matter - how he came to rugby relatively later than most, his time playing for Ireland Sevens, and even threw in his first love for football when he, unexpectedly, branched out into some light humour.

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Having gelled so well last week with the impressively sharp Will Addison, he explained why they seemed to be on the same wavelength for what was their first game together this season.

"It's the Enniskillen bond we have," the 22-year-old winger said with a smile.

In fairness, it's also a neat nod to Cumbria native Addison spending his youthful summers in Fermanagh, around his mother's parental home in Kesh, and he has also nominated Enniskillen as his club, which is listed beside his name when he makes an Ireland squad.

Anyway, the two 'Fermanagh men' have dove-tailed well, as the Enniskillen born and raised Baloucoune explained.

"Will's always chatting to me on the pitch, he's very vocal," he said.

"All I have to do is run alongside him and hopefully he gets an offload or he makes space out of nothing. It makes my life easier, I just run."

And he can run.

The pace was startlingly evident early in last Friday's game with Connacht when Addison threw a pass Baloucoune's way and the latter scorched down the right wing to score, only for the play to be called back as the full-back's pass had been forward.

He did get over early in the second half to set Ulster on their way to the thumping result over Connacht which brought up his second touchdown in just three games played this season.

We haven't seen too much of Baloucoune so far this term thanks to a niggling knee issue, which he hopes has now settled down.

"I look to try and beat defenders and get a try," said Baloucoune. "I just try and find space and make the most of when I have the ball in attack, especially on the edges."

He is expected to line out against Munster tomorrow in a back three which not only includes Addison but also has Jacob Stockdale on the other wing. Clearly, Baloucoune is an admirer.

"He (Stockdale) just brings anything out of the bag," he said.

"He's physical, there are those chips over the top and he never lets the team down.

"It'll be good to have him to work alongside and we can do some damage in the back three."

Baloucoune is about more than mere scoring prowess, though, as the former Portora (now Enniskillen Royal Grammar School) pupil can also operate as a pretty decent defender, which he puts down to his time in Sevens.

"It (Sevens) isolates you in defence, so you have to be able to read the game and make a decision, make your tackles," said the former Ireland Sevens ace.

"When you've got more people inside and outside you, I find it easier to make that read, the shot or the tackle into touch, because you have that confidence to just go.

"The Sevens really helped because you have to make those decisions, you can't hide on the pitch. You also learn the basics: passing, tackling. It really boosts you."

Baloucoune's conversion to rugby came in his mid-teens at Medallion level, making the switch from football just because some of his friends had done the same. It wasn't too long before his combination of size, speed and strength were noticed.

Other than having an uncle who played rugby while at Portora, there is no background of family involvement in the game, meaning that the Ulster winger is blazing a trail in a sport he only took up about half a dozen years ago.

"I always felt when I was younger, even when playing Under-19s, that I didn't have the same experience that other boys had because I only started watching rugby when I started playing, which was about 15 or 16," he added.

"So you tend to think a lot more about whether you should be doing something or not, because I don't have that experience from before.

"But I kind of just take it as it comes. Every game is different so I'm just learning with every game."

Thus far he is clearly making the grade.

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