Lock Alan O’Connor is the latest player to have the Ulster captaincy thrust upon him this season and he will need to summon all his leadership skills for Saturday’s PRO14 date with the Blues in Cardiff.
O’Connor is one of the players departing head coach Jono Gibbes credits with the special ability to lead from the front and garner respect.
Gibbes says that O’Connor would be one of a couple of players he would take back home to Waikato when he ends his stint with Ulster.
“If I wanted someone who’s a spokesman, I’d take Al O’Connor because he keeps it pretty short and simple and direct. That’s good,” said Gibbes who also said that young hookers Adam McBurney and John Andrews have something special.
“There’s a few guys who I have a lot of time for. It’s not so much about favourites because all players give you something. They can give you good experiences or challenging experiences about things that rub you up the wrong way, but it’s how you deal with it.
“Adam McBurney, I’m a big fan... and Johnny Andrew, both good competitors. They play in the same position. I kind of like those guys. Take Rory (Best). You admire how he goes about his business.”
Dublin-born O’Connor, though, is not looking for praise, he just wants to do his job.
“I try not to mumble my words,” said O’Connor who will be making his 58th appearance for his adopted province.
“Once you start talking too much, then no-one listens to you at the end of the day. So you have to keep it short and sharp, get your point across so there is no ambiguity.”
O’Connor said things haven’t changed much since Gibbes decided he was leaving to head back to New Zealand.
“Jono is a very professional lad, so he comes in, same attitude, same mindset. We haven’t really changed our game plan much.”
Progression to the play-off stages would require a miraculous set of results going Ulster’s way.
They lie fourth in Conference B, nine points behind third-placed Edinburgh, although with a match in hand.
However, that is against Conference A leaders Glasgow, who will have their full contingent of internationals back by then after the initial fixture was postponed due to snow.
“We were well set for that game,” says O’Connor.
“So we just have to park that, and obviously this is a big game coming up on Saturday. Hopefully we will make things right then catch Glasgow soon enough.
“We still have five big games left, so I am looking forward to taking on those five teams.”
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