Hooker John Andrew is relishing his first start of the season for Ulster in Friday’s must win Guinness PRO12 game against Edinburgh at Kingspan Stadium.
Andrew has made seven appearances from the bench this season but with Rory Best on international duty and Rob Herring injured the Ballymena hooker is in the middle of the front row as Ulster look to resurrect their PRO12 playoff hopes.
He has played for the province 20 times including two starts last February.
“I got a couple of starts last year at around the same time during the Six Nations,” explained an enthusiastic Andrew.
“Rory was away and I think Rob had a knock back then too.I’m really looking forward to getting back out and getting another start.
“Individually it’s a time when a few of us look to get more game time when the internationals are away.
“I didn’t know that Rob wouldn’t be fit but he’s unfortunately picked up a knock and that’s the way you get a chance in this game.
“Someone picks up a knock and you have to go out and perform and do so to the best of your ability and then you can give the coaches a bit of a selection headache when everyone’s fit.”
Ulster have lost their last four games including two in the PRO12 which has seen them fall eight points of the play off but have a game in hand.
“I think in those games there have been patches where we’ve played okay and then there has been patches where we’ve been very ordinary or worse.
“In this block of games, during the Six Nations, we’re just trying to get a bit of momentum back.
“We know that when we get things right, we can give teams a bit of a headache so we just need to go out and perform and get the basics right and get the win.”
Edinburgh won 28-17 when the sides met at Murrayfield earlier in the season and Andrew is expecting a tough night at the coal face but is hoping the two week break after Bordeaux has recharged Ulster’s batteries.
“We do a lot of analysis on every team but we know that Edinburgh are a big and physical pack.
“We’ve been working on our ourselves and we know if we perform to at our best we can give them a real go in the scrums.
“Last week we got a good amount of work done and did more contact than would probably be the case in an ordinary match week and that, along with the break, seems to have freshened the boys up.”
As a hooker Andrew has found the coaching of European Cup winner and former Ireland international Allen Clarke invaluable.
“Clarkey is very good, especially as he was a hooker himself so that helps with the dark arts that people maybe don’t see like with scrummaging.”
“It’s a good place to be as a young hooker.”
“You’re under more scrutiny as everyone can see your lineouts and the scrum has to go well too and it’s hard for any team to make inroads of both those areas aren’t working.”
“So you’re under the microscope a bit but we’ve got a good players either side of you and in the second row so that takes a bit of pressure off you.”
John learned to play rugby with his brothers Ricky and Joel in the back garden, Ricky also played for Ulster and is not coaching at Rainey but doesn’t have a lot of tips for his younger sibling.
“I think that’s stood me in good stead trying to tackle Ricky as he was always quicker than me.”
“I watch him playing for Rainey but we just let ourselves get on with it.”