Regular game time sees Shanahan flourish in key Ulster role

Ulster scrumhalf Dave Shanahan
Ulster scrumhalf Dave Shanahan

No matter what level of the game players are competing, one thing is key, they have to be playing regularly to make progress.

Ulster scrumhalf Dave Shanahan is one of those players who has flourished this season from getting regular game time.

Having had to play behind Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall and more recently John Cooney, Shanahan has bided his time and while he has picked up some advice from his peers, the best way to learn is on the pitch in a game.

Shanahan said: “That’s helped me the most this year, getting a lot of game time, getting on the field and being able to make mistakes, learn from mistakes and knowing what works for me, and getting a bit more of an identity as a player around this team.”

Shanahan has played in 16 games this season, almost twice more than any previous year and that is something which has led him to finally show the form he has.

“I like to think I’ve played okay when I’ve had to this year,” he said.

“It’s been a great year for me, something I haven’t been used to, and in the past... I was looking at it the other day, it was either last year or the year before I had eight appearances.

“But in eight appearances I’d only played 60 minutes, so you’re talking eight minutes a game.

“When you’re doing that, you’re afraid to make mistakes because you’re like ‘I have eight minutes, I’d better not screw up’, whereas (this year) you’re actually getting a good bit of game-time.

“You are trying to help the team win rather than worrying about yourself. Obviously I have to be aware of my own personal performance, but I’m feeling a lot more part of the team and I’m really enjoying it now.”

Ulster are due to face Southern Kings on Saturday evening and while they may sit in a lowly position in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, Shanahan says they should not be underestimated.

Ulster lie in third place, a point behind Benetton, with Scarlets four points behind, meaning there can no room for slip-ups in the race to make the play-offs and secure an automatic qualification place for next season’s European Champions Cup.

On the Kings, Shanahan said: “Kings are second last in the table, and I don’t want to make a cliché of it, but they’re a seriously good team, seriously dangerous team.

“Some of the performances they’ve put in this year, even when we played them earlier in the season, they made it really tough for us for the majority of the game.

“We managed to get a couple of tries late to pull away from them, but they’re such a dangerous team.

“Everyone talks about the speed they have out wide and stuff, which is obvious to see, but their maul is really, really good - they did a number on us in the maul last time we were out there, so we have to defend well and make sure they don’t get into the 22 and make that a thing for them.”

Shanahan knows what his role is over the coming weeks if Ulster are to make the play-offs.

“It’s linking back to what I was saying before, I used to think if I’m not getting that much game-time then I need to stand out in the 10 minutes that I get - and at the same time not make mistakes - but I need to stand out too, which isn’t the way to be.

“As a nine, your job is to facilitate the team, and the way we try to play here, we try to play at a high pace, so I take a lot of pride in my fitness and I like to think I could run for most of the game if I wanted, trying to get to the rucks as quickly as possible, get the ball out and keep the pace going.”