World Cup winning prop John Afoa found himself on the bench for the trip to defending champions the Ospreys last weekend as Mark Anscombe practiced what he preached about reputations meaning nothing when it comes to team selection at Ulster.
“I was a little be surprised, last year I was banging it out, we had a few injuries and Deccy (Fitzpatrick) wasn’t about for much of the year,” said Afoa.
“There are about eight props, both loose and tight heads so there is a lot of competition, but whatever happens whether you starting or on the bench you have got to just make the best of it and whatever time you get you just have to go out and add to the team.”
Afoa was one of the star names that came off the bench and helped turn the game in Ulster’s favourite.
“We are fortunate to have a good squad and on the bench we had guys like Nige (Nigel Brady) who had played a 100 games, Tom has played a 100, Stevie (Ferris) is up in the 90’s and I have played a lot of Super games so we had a lot of experience on the bench.
“I think the big thing we were missing in the first half was a little bit of direction and a little bit of guidance so when the boys came in they were able to give a little more direction and we snuck a win at the end of the day, we’ll learn a lot from that and we’ll look to push on from that this week.”
Ulster had a poor record in Wales but have been dealt a huge physiological boost by toppling the champions on their own patch.
“We are trying to make things better and we were shocking on are away games last season and everyone knows that and we are trying to build on it.”
“To get an away win was great but we didn’t play well and realistically we should have won by 15 points. Our defence has been good but our defence has been really struggling, we just have to be confident in what we are doing in attack.”
Ulster showed in the Heineken Cup quarter final last season that they have nothing to fear from Munster.
“They are a strong team but we have come a long way, we are at home, we’ve some guys coming back this week and we’ll see how the team looks, we’ll be putting out a strong team and we’ll be looking to keep things simple.”
“I think the days are gone where it was one way traffic I think it’s going to be tight and a tough battle but we are confident we can get over the line.
As well as both coaches being New Zealanders there will also be a few on the pitch on both sides and Afoa feels that will add spice to the Irish derby.
“There are a fair few Kiwi connections but I think when we cross the white line on Friday night it will be about what ever team you have got on your back, I’m sure I’ll catch up with them after the game but for us it’s all about building and putting a strategy towards Munster and looking to get the win because that is what it is all about.”
“I’ve played with Dougie (Howlett) a lot and he is a great man, he was one of the icons of Blues Rugby back in New Zealand, Casey (Laulala), I’ve played a lot of age grade rugby with his younger brother and I’ve known him from school, played New Zealand Juniors with him so I have a good close connection to both those guys and with Nick and Jared it’s going to be good to play with against them and it’s going to be like an old Super game.”
On paper Ulster appeared to have a difficult start but with two wins they are third in the table and a victory on Friday night at Ravenhill would lift them above Munster.
“We knew we were going to have a tough start as we were playing three of the top four finishers but we didn’t get bogged down by that, in pre season we did really well and got some good results.
“We are playing some good footy at times but we can’t pat ourselves on the back at the moment because we haven’t really done anything yet.”