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Warwick fired up to set high early standard as Ulster take on Ospreys

By Michael Sadlier

The try gets brought up and Andy Warwick can't help but smile.

It was last February when the loose-head prop found himself sprinting over like an outside back to touch the ball down in the home win over Treviso. Not the most orthodox score for a front-rower with props usually flopping down over the line from close-in rumbles, but Warwick was happy to take what was on offer before being mobbed by his team-mates.

The try was his first, and so far only, score for Ulster and, yes, the mobile prop would like more even though his primary duties are the priority.

"A try always boosts the ego," said Ballymena man Warwick, who can play both sides of the scrum. "It wasn't a bad one, running in from the '22', but if the scrum goes well and I don't miss any tackles and hit the rucks on Friday night, I'll not be complaining too much."

His upward trajectory stalled somewhat last season in his battle with Callum Black to be starting in the No 1 shirt but, this time around, he already has the nudge on his rival as Black is sidelined with an arm injury.

Not only that, but Warwick also had a notable summer with his involvement in the Emerging Ireland squad - along with team-mates Rob Herring, Stuart McCloskey, Peter Nelson and Frank Taggart - which triumphed in the Tbilisi Cup in Georgia by beating the hosts.

He not only returned with a winners' medal but also a renewed confidence in his abilities for the challenges which lie ahead.

"I really enjoyed it (the Tbilisi Cup) but it was a bit hot out there," he said, still smiling at the memory. "But it was brilliant to be involved and with players playing in the Irish set-up."

Fair enough, but starting with a victory over the Ospreys tomorrow night is now the priority, not reflecting on what has been.

"I just can't wait to get stuck into the games," Warwick, who will make his 30th Ulster appearance tomorrow night, said.

"Hopefully I can really push on, have a good game, and then just build on it from there.

"It's great to have the first game at home, but we definitely need a good start.

"These first two games (Ospreys at home and Scarlets away before the World Cup break) are key ones for us."

And mention of the World Cup brings up the fact that the Ospreys are missing around a dozen players from their squad which will surely mean advantage Ulster, who have seven away, especially on their home turf.

"Yes that's true, but we're missing a few key men too," noted Warwick.

"But I still think our squad is strong enough that come Friday night we'll be able to do a job."

The fact that the two pre-season friendlies - against Leinster and Edinburgh - did not go well is of little concern to him as Warwick maintains that Ulster will be different in the white-heat of competition.

He also warns that last season's poor disciplinary record must not undermine Ulster's efforts this campaign.

"We sat down and had a meeting about it and you just can't go into a game, ship a yellow card or two, and expect to be winning it," he added. "So we've addressed that and we have to cut that out."

Sounds like a good starting point.

Ulster v Ospreys

PRO12 League: Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm

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