Prop Kyle McCall has waited patiently to get his chance at Ulster.
When it came he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands starting five of the last six games and being rested in the other.
“I’ve been involved in the squad for a couple of years now and I have been just training week in and week out and enjoying being one of the players in the squad,” said McCall.
“I got my opportunity before Christmas it was good fun and I really enjoyed it.”
“The competition is so stiff if you slip up other people will get chances, we like to push each other and put each other under pressure and if you get an opportunity you have to take it you can’t take any step backs.”
McCall has played in 7 games and has made 66 tackles, he relishes the role of the modern prop although scrummaging is his forte.
“I like to play a bit of rugby but first thing first is the set piece you can’t be part of the squad if your scrum or lineout isn’t good enough so it is about that and whatever I do around the park is a bonus.
“I like to back my work rate around the park and feed of the energy of the people around me and try to give them a bit of energy and I like to play with the ball in hand.”
McCall learned a lot training with All Black world cup winner John Afoa.
“John was a massive influence on me, I scrummed against him week in week out when he was here.
“I was trying to feed of him and learn as a young prop what was going on in there, experience is key and it was good to be around him and the props we have here all feed of each other and give each other advice and it’s a good environment to be in.”
One of the biggest challenges facing a prop is the rules at the scrum change every year.
“You have to adapt because it does change quite a lot.
“When I was at 20’s it was a lot longer and there was more of a hit but now that has been taken away but every other player has to adapt because the game is changing year in and year out, I enjoy the new rules.”
McCall started in both the wins over four times European Champions Toulouse.
“They were two massive games to be a part of, that was my first time playing for Ulster away in France and to get the win was great and the changing room after it was absolutely buzzing and we’d like to create that this weekend again.
“Getting the win is France was amazing and a lot of people strive to get wins there, it was great to be a part of.”
“There was a lot of chat about 1999 going into the Toulouse game and it was creating an atmosphere and energy about the place to try and do it again and we did.”
While he enjoyed the victories over Toulouse McCall faced a tough test in the front row against 55 times internationally capped Census Johnston.
“It was definitely one of the harder props I’ve been in against.
“He is a big heavy man at 135 kgs but I was able to hold my own and that provides me with a bit of confidence in my scrummaging ability.”
McCall doesn’t fine a huge different between scrummaging in Europe and the Guinness PRO12.
“It’s getting closer and closer that gap. The teams in the PRO12 are close knitted, it’s tough in both competitions week in week out and there are no easy games.
“When your scrumming against WP Nel one week then Census Johnston the next there isn’t much of a change.”
Ulster’s preparation for the return to Europe against Oyonnax took a set back with defeat against Munster last Saturday.
“it was disappointing I felt we lacked a wee bit of intensity and we just didn’t hold onto the ball well enough but all credit to Munster they pinned us back in the corners and kept us deep in our 22.”
Ulster travel to Oyonnax 10 points behind pool leaders Saracens and anything but a win would end hopes of reaching the knock out stages.
“Every game is a must win and especially the way the group is it put the pressure on every team,” added McCall.
“It might be a group game but every game is must win and you can’t afford many slip ups.
“In our heads we’re going over to get the win. It’s hard to get wins in France and anything that comes with that is a bonus.”
The loose head’s prop achievements on the pitch were acknowledged when he was voted Ulster’s Player of the Month for November.
“It was surprising and a bit flattering,” said McCall.
“It is great to get the support from the crowd and the supporters, I just like playing rugby and being involved in this team.
“If I’m playing well and people are recognising that is great,” added McCall.