Kyle McCall: ‘This is as close as you get to a European game’

Ulster loosehead Kyle McCall is like any prop: he wants to scrummage, and scrummage his opposite number off the park. 

Plenty of logic in that, but when McCall comes up against his ‘friendly’ Connacht counterpart this Friday in the first of the Guinness PRO14 derbies at the Kingspan Stadium, he knows he will have to produce his A game.

These behemoths in the front row are not just very adept at the dark arts of that little corridor of the scrum, they are now very noticeable out in the open, where tackling, clearing out and, believe it or not, slick hands are the order of the day.

For McCall, it’s the whole package that makes him stand out. Now he really does want to be number one. He bounced onto the senior Ulster stage back in 2013 in a pre-season friendly against Leinster and has played no fewer than seven derbies since then. But while he missed nearly a season through injury, his performances in Europe when he started against Toulouse, Clermont, and Saracens in the last couple of seasons, catapulted him into the limelight.

He is due to win his 40th Ulster cap tomorrow night, and he knows that Ulster will have to improve on what was a dreadful, error-ridden performance last week in the defeat by Zebre.

“It’s something we have looked at,” said 25-year-old McCall, who, like Chris Henry, attended Wallace High School. “It’s a sort of a ‘next job mentality’. At the weekend we put error on error on error, but in the squad we look at it that when someone makes an error, as everyone does, that it’s about the next job and trying to do the simple things well.

“Last week, our basics weren’t good enough. We lacked the right energy but fair play to Zebre, they brought plenty of energy, which we struggled to deal with.”

McCall is not taking Connacht’s woeful record at Ravenhill as any kind of comfort this week. “We haven’t talked about it. What we’ve talked about is that it’s an inter-pro and every inter-pro is as big as the next. This is as close as you’re going to get to a European game. It’ll be exciting this week.”

However, it’s when talking scrummaging that his eyes truly light up.

“As a front-rower it’s always about scrummaging. It’s about getting that solid base and get to a dominant stage. Obviously, I like to get around the park in the loose and making my hits and getting the ball in hand. But if the scrum’s not right, then all of that means nothing. So first and foremost it’s about the scrum for me and for any front rower.”

McCall could come up against former Ballynahinch club colleague Conor Carey tomorrow night. “I played with Conor at ‘Hinch and he was in the Ulster Academy when I was there. He started last week against Scarlets so I assume he’ll be involved so it’ll be exciting to come up against him.”

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