It’s a daunting enough task making your provincial debut and being pitted against a British Lion but it’s even more difficult when you only find out three days before the game, that’s what happened to Stephen Mulholland last week however the powerful No8 took it all in his stride.
Mulholland played 68 minutes in Ulster’s victory over the Dragons and will be start for the A team against Bristol in the British & Irish Cup at the Kingspan on Friday.
“Coming up against Toby (Faletau) was very challenging and I was very nervous before the game, I think I didn’t do too bad apart from a couple of mistakes at the back of the scrum, I was glad to get my first cap especially with Les coming in because he is going to give a lot of boys opportunities,” said Mulholland.
“Les rang me on Thursday and I was in with the boys on Friday and I didn’t have long to think about it, I was well looked after in the back row with Chris Henry and Robbie Diack, I talked to Nick as well, it was better to go straight in than sitting on the bench, Andy Warwick maybe sat on the bench two or three times before he got on so starting for my first cap was better for me.”
“Even from A standard it is a lot faster and bigger collusions it was definitely a big step up.”
“I have played a lot of my rugby at Ballymena at eight but I can play six, for me it’s just the difference at the back of the scrum but my game stays the same playing both, they are a couple of things I need to improve on as I was a bit rusty getting caught at the back and keeping the ball in and it is something I can learn from.”
Mulholland has been given a development contract at Ulster and despite the competition he is hoping for my opportunities with the senior squad.
“It’s a good group of lads, it’s a lot of early morning training and gyming, then I got a development contract this year and was brought in with the senior boys and did the pre season which was very hard, it’s just keeping you hard down and play well for the A’s and you will get the chance with the seniors.”
“There are so many backrows the like of Nick, Roger, Robbie and Willie Faloon back this year the competition is very high and there is a lot of young boys like Lorcan Dow and Frank Taggart coming through.”
Ulster have only escaped their group twice in six years but Mulholland feels there is a new emphasis on this season’s tournament.
“I think the A’s will do better this year because of the new coaching panel and the boys want to do better because they haven’t in previous years.”
“With Alex Codling coming in, we are training separate, there is more training we are going through our lineouts and set piece, even though we have lost the first two hopefully we can kick on in the B & I cup and do a lot better than the last couple of years.”
Mulholland starts at No8, openside flanker Willie Faloon captains the side with Clive Ross completing the backrow.
Alan O’Connor and Peter Browne are in the engine room, Ruaidhri Murphy, John Andrew and Bronson Ross form the front row.
Behind the scrum Paul Rowley and Sam Windsor are at half back, Mark Best and Callum Patterson start in midfield, Johnny McPhillips wears No15 with Rodger McBurney and Robert Lyttle on the wings.
Tommaso Benvenuti is set for his first outing of the campaign with current English championship leaders Bristol on Friday night.
The Italian international – who represented his country during the World Cup – comes into a much-changed backline that also sees George Watkins and Callum Sheedy earn first competitive starts of the season.
Chris Brooker returns from a loan spell at Gloucester to start in the front row, while Tom Ellis makes his competitive debut for the Club after joining from Bath on a dual-registration agreement.
Gareth Maule is listed among the replacements and could make his first outing of the season after recovering from a long-term hip injury.
ULSTER: Jonny McPhillips, Roger McBurney, Callum Patterson, Mark Best, Robert Lyttle, Sam Windsor, Paul Rowley; (1-8) Ruaidhri Murphy, John Andrew, Bronson Ross, Alan O’Connor, Pete Browne, Clive Ross, Willie Faloon (Captain), Stephen Mulholland;
Replacements (16-22): Johnny Murphy, Michael Lagan, Jonny Simpson, Alex Thompson, Conor Joyce, Liam Free, Andrew Magrath.
BRISTOL: Luke Arscott; George Watkins, Tommaso Benvenuti, Ben Mosses (c), Charlie Amesbury; Callum Sheedy, Craig Hampson; Ellis Genge, Chris Brooker, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Tom Ellis, Mark Sorenson, Nick Koster, Max Crumpton, Rayn Smid.
Replacements: James Stephenson, James Hall, Glen Townson, Jack Davies, Andy Uren, Adrian Jarvis, Gareth Maule.