Robert Baloucoune admits ‘surprise’ over Ireland call-up

There is always relief for a player when they make a try-scoring debut for Ireland.

Saturday, 4th December 2021, 7:00 am

Ulster winger Robert Baloucoune scored a scintillating solo try on his Ireland debut against the USA in the summer, but an injury-hit start to the new season looked like ruling him out of the autumn test series.

However, Andy Farrell kept faith with the former 7s flyer and selected him in the squad but after wins against Japan and the All Blacks it didn’t look like Baloucoune would be adding to his caps collection.

Baloucoune was given a start in the last match against Argentina.

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BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - JANUARY 18: Robert Baloucoune of Ulster races through to score a try during the Heineken Champions Cup Round 6 match between Ulster Rugby and Bath Rugby at Ravenhill Stadium on January 18, 2020 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

“Getting selected was a big thing first of all, I was quite surprised because I’d missed quite a few games at the start of the season,” reasoned Baloucoune.

“It was great to be selected and then being in camp, I really enjoyed it.

“Being involved a bit more, it was a bit different from the USA game - it seemed a bit more intense and for me anyway there was a bit more pressure.

“I really settled in, everyone was really nice, I think we gelled as a group and that showed on the pitch,” he added.

“Whenever you’re playing well, and you’re back into camp even after beating Japan that first week, we focussed on ourselves; we did it in training and I think it showed out on the pitch.

“I was quite surprised (to start against Argentina) because it looked pretty set on what the team was going to be so it was a bit of a shock in training.

“I was pretty nervous, I’m not going to lie. It was pretty nerve-wracking in the days before, I’ve played before, but the stadium was full, and I was a bit nervous coming into the game but once I was involved on the pitch it was like any other game and I settled into it.”

Baloucoune enjoyed working with world cup winner Mike Catt, who is now part of the Irish coaching ticket.

“He’s a really good coach, we do our basics but he talks about the flow - every coach has their ways but he’s really easy to work with and he settles you as a player,” he said.

“He has this calm approach that de-stresses you as a player, I think that shows whenever we played, that flow.

“Obviously, it’s important that I’m improving on bits, one-on-one (defending), kicking on the run - I’ve worked with Catty on that but I suppose you need to be good at everything. Coming into the training week, I’ll set my goals to work on.”

Baloucoune sat out Ulster’s win over Leinster last weekend but returns to the starting line-up for Saturday’s clash in Swansea with the Ospreys.

“I think that it’s easy to switch off, that’s something we’ve spoken about so none of us will be looking past this,” he said.

“I think we need to back up the performance and push forward, there’s European games in the future but that’s the future, there’s no point thinking about that yet, our mindset is clear and set on playing the Ospreys.”

Angus Curtis replaces last week’s man of the match James Hume in the centre.

It’s all change in the front row with Eric O’Sullivan, Brad Roberts and Tom O’Toole starting.

Kieran Treadwell comes into the engine room and Sean Reidy starts in the backrow.

Jack McGrath could make his first appearance in over a year as he is named among the replacements while Craig Gilroy will make his 200th appearance for the province if he is sprung from the bench.

Ulster team to play Ospreys (3pm): (15-9) Mike Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, Angus Curtis, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney; (1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Brad Roberts, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Alan O’Connor (Capt.), Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney, David McCann.

Replacements: Tom Stewart, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Mick Kearney, Marcus Rea, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore, Craig Gilroy.

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