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Ross Kane keen to keep proving his worth to Ulster

 

By Jonathan Bradley ·

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Striding on: Ross Kane has impressed after seizing his chance for Ulster this season, despite an early injury setback

A short time after Ulster last played Ospreys in Belfast, a mere five weeks ago, head coach Jono Gibbes was asked about Jacob Stockdale.

The young wing was relatively fresh from a sensational and record-breaking Six Nations, as well as having just bagged the late try that finally sealed an 8-0 win for the province.

A fair enough question thought the journalist no doubt, an easy enough opportunity to get a soundbite on the man it seemed everybody and his dog wanted to hear about.

After a brief pause and a quizzical look, Gibbes began to answer.

"Jacob?" he retorted. "What did he do for the try? They threw the ball, it bounced, he caught it and ran. Let's talk about Ross Kane, don't talk about Jacob.

"I thought Ross Kane was massive, it was a difficult game, there were a lot of scrums, a lot of dropped ball.

"I think he put in a massive shift that helped a lot of other guys out there."

While the answer spoke plenty of how Gibbes, as a former All Black forward, views the game - he once said that no backs would be put forward for media duty and it took a week or two to work out whether he was joking - he wasn't wrong in highlighting Kane's contribution to the cause.

Having endured another injury-interrupted campaign, his emergence in that contest had come just in time.

With Rodney Ah You and Wiehahn Herbst both out for the season, tight-head props were looking decidedly thin on the ground for the province in the campaign's final weeks, only for Kane, in his first year out of the Academy, to fill the void.

Having started last season well when Ulster were similarly short of experience to fill the No.3 jersey, his progress was stunted somewhat having appeared in nine of the first 10 games but only two thereafter.

His outings have been more steady this campaign, despite an early injury, while he also impressed while leading the 'A' team's run to the British and Irish Cup quarter-finals.

Now 23-years-old, the former Methodist College Schools' Cup-winning captain hopes that this latest chance sees him make a lasting impression that carries through into next season.

"I suppose the season has to end," he said, admitting that now is a less than ideal time personally for a prolonged break.

"It was a tough start to the season but again you just have to fight your way back into the team. I've just been lucky to get my chance and get back involved.

"Jono has been a great help to my game and I'm sure everyone's game.

"He's brought a different mindset to everyone in the team which is definitely evident since the time he's been here and it's helped us a lot.

"I think that you're always learning as a player, always trying to go through like your last game and see what you can pick up from then and it's week on week it differs to what you need to improve."

While Ulster's tight-head options are limited at present, it figures to be something of a different story next year.

Ten-times-capped Irish international Marty Moore has been brought in from Wasps, presumably to vie with Herbst for the starting role, while the highly-rated Tom O'Toole has been another to put up his hand in recent months.

Ten-times-capped Irish international Marty Moore has been brought in from Wasps, presumably to vie with Herbst for the starting role, while the highly-rated Tom O'Toole has been another to put up his hand in recent months.

As well as aiming up, Kane knows he has to keep one eye over his shoulder too.

"I think there's eight Academy players that have been blooded this season and it's just great to see," he said.

"There are all these (guys) behind you, making you improve your game, pushing for spots which is always going to happen. It makes you want to push on more to try and prove that you're still worthy of a place."

Before that, though, just what European competition Ulster will be playing in next season must be decided first.

The northern province have been ever-present in the top tier since its inception but are one loss away from a season in the Challenge Cup.

Thanks to the splitting of the PRO14 into conferences last summer, the league's final place in the Champions Cup will be decided by Sunday's first ever play-off game at Kingspan Stadium (3.05pm kick-off).

With Allen Clarke's Ospreys in town, a third home defeat of the season does not bear thinking about for Ulster, who would be hit financially by a season in the Challenge Cup while also giving further ammunition to their critics.

"We've a big test ahead of us but we're ready for the challenge," said Kane. "We played them in the last game only a few weeks ago. They've been doing really well, they've won seven out of their last 10 games and it's going to be a difficult game but we're up for the task.

"No matter what the game or what the occasion, I think home advantage is definitely a big positive, playing in front of your own fans."

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Striding on: Ross Kane has impressed after seizing his chance for Ulster this season, despite an early injury setback