Stuart Olding spent nearly a year on the side lines due to injury but marked his comeback with the bonus point try in the win over Treviso at the end of January.
He has since started Ulster’s last five games and was rewarded with a trip to the Ireland training camp this week.
“It was a very long road back it was 10 months with the ACL and two months just before that with the elbow, it was long enough but it flew in and one of the reason was the medical staff and the S & C coaches kept everything fresh and enjoyable,” said Olding.
“I could see myself getting quicker and stronger and leaner and month on month and was seeing how much better I could be, it was a long road back but I think I’m a better man and player for it and I’m enjoying being back out on the pitch.
Olding is hoping if he can stay injury free and get a substantial amount of game time under his belt he can add to his two Ireland caps.
“It was great to be down training with Ireland. I wasn’t expecting to get a call to be involved in anything because playing five games in a year I don’t really think it qualifies you to play international rugby but I think I have come back very well and I’m happy with how I’m playing.”
“Joe said keep fit, keep playing and keep progressing, I have set myself a goal of playing as much as I can with Ulster and getting playing of game time and hopefully the performances will come with that and then maybe put my hand up for the summer tour.”
Versatility is a word often used to describe Olding but he has started all five games at full back.
“At 12 there is a lot more contact and collisions than at full back, I’ve enjoyed being at full back managing to get some time on the ball and basically just expressing myself, every week I just want to play and hopefully I can put in another good performance.
“Versatility can either be a positive or a negative, usually the versatile players are sitting on the bench and aren’t involved where if you hone in on one position and really focus all your efforts on that you can nail down a starting jersey.”
“Coming back from injury I’ll play anywhere but next year hopefully nail down a position.”
With Louis Ludik staying and Charles Piutau due to arrive from Wasps Olding mightn’t have to play a lot at full back next season.
“I would see myself as a 12 and that is where I kind of want to play but if everybody is fit here next year it’s an abundance of talent in the backline and it will be a very tough backline to get into so I need to carry on my form and keep progressing this year and have a good pre season and try and stick my hand up to get in there.”
Olding have made 359 metres of 59 carries so far this season.
“That’s the type of game I like to play running and trying to make as many breaks as I can and get the team go forward ball to execute of I happy with how I’m going, I just want to get my hands on the ball and be as involved as much as a possible and get into a good swing of things.”
After two consecutive defeats in the Pro12 Olding knows Ulster must tighten up their defence.
“We have been focusing a good bit on defence, the kick chase and making our one on one tackles because we know Zebre like to play off broken field rugby and unstructured play so we’ll have to play heads up rugby and defence will be a massive factor.”
Ulster have won five of the previous six meeting between the clubs while Zebre have only one Pro12 win outside Italy and sit second bottom and Olding is hoping for a maximum points win.
“I’m hoping it’s a five pointer, we need at least a win and if we can get the bonus point happy days it will put us in good steed for the rest of the season.”