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Ulster's young lock Treadwell has seized opportunity with both hands

The 21-year-old, who made his debut for Ireland over the summer, is excited at the prospect of being involved in the Champions Cup tomorrow.

Treadwell at Kingspan Stadium.
Treadwell at Kingspan Stadium.
Image: Jonathan Porter/INPHO

THIS TIME LAST season, Kieran Treadwell wasn’t even thinking of being involved in a European squad for Ulster.

Having joined from Harlequins in the summer, where he never played at a level higher than the Challenge Cup in Europe, the 21-year-old was forced to bide his time at Kingspan Stadium.

But, after a few brief appearances from the bench during the November internationals, he finally got his shot against Clermont Auvergne in December, coming off the bench both at home and at the Stade Marcel-Michelin.

He hasn’t been out of the squad since, the Surrey man making 15 starts for his adopted province as he nailed down one of the open jerseys in the Ulster engine room.

Not only that, but his endeavour yielded a first call-up to the Ireland squad for their summer tour of the US and Japan, as he made one start and one sub appearance in the green jersey.

With Donnacha Ryan away to Racing 92 this season, effectively slamming the door shut on any international aspirations he may still harbour, and Iain Henderson continuing to switch between second and back rows, there’s an opening for Treadwell.

Jacob Stockdale and Kieran Treadwell Treadwell with Jacob Stockdale during Ireland's summer tour in Japan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Not that the young lock, who portrays a very humble figure, feels any different to the in-and-out player he was for Ulster this time last year.

“No I don’t think it [feels any different],” Treadwell says. “Last year I was a Test player and this year I feel like I’m still earning my stripes and I’m a young player and still learning.

“It was great to get those caps on tour but I’m an Ulster player and I’ve got to play week in week out even to get a look-in for the Ireland squad.”

Where better to prove yourself then, than in your team’s Champions Cup opener against defeated Aviva Premiership champions Wasps?

That said, the giants from Coventry have lost their last four games and sit three from bottom in the Premiership standings.

Admittedly, they have an injury list about a mile long, but nobody within Wasps would use that as an excuse, nor do Ulster see it as a reason to take the favourites tag.

As in all European games, this will be a tough one.

There’s definitely a different edge to training this week,” Treadwell admits.

“[Wasps] have some good athletes and players. They’ve got big carriers in the forwards and some serious class out wide but we want to focus on ourselves this week and it’s going to take a big squad performance.”

Getting off to a fast start counts in Europe, and in the last two years — against Bordeaux-Begles and Saracens — the Kingspan outfit haven’t pick up an opening win. Unsurprisingly, they then failed to qualify for the knockouts.

Home wins count too. Last season, Ulster dropped their final home match, again to Bordeaux. The year before that, the opening game against Saracens was in Belfast. Again, it was a big contributing factor to disappointing finishes.

In fact, Ulster haven’t made it into the quarter-finals since 2014 (back then still the Heineken Cup), when Jared Payne’s red card in a 17-15 defeat to Saracens at Kingspan Stadium (then Ravenhill) eliminated them.

Last season was undoubtedly a low point, ranging from failing to take anything from that trip to Bordeaux to then losing to the same opponents at home in January to finish bottom of their pool, marking three consecutive seasons of failing to progress.

Bundee Aki with Kieran Treadwell In action against Connacht last week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

So the pressure is on that they don’t do the same thing this year, especially with that all-important opening fixture at home, and Treadwell admits he does have ways to cope with that expectancy.

“You do sort of feel the pressure but I feel you’ve a job to do at the end of the day and I suppose everyone feels that pressure,” the naturalised Irishman says. “We’ve got to be the best we can be to win.

“The day before you get a bit nervous but I try to relax as much as I can. I listen to music really and as soon as you get on I try to get out as early as I can and get my hands on the ball as early as I can to feed off the atmosphere.

I speak to boys like Hendy [Iain Henderson] and Christian [Leali'ifano] and talk through roles and things like that.”

That experience within the squad — a core group of leaders has been established according to the coaching staff — has been instrumental to Ulster’s positive start to the season, which has seen them win five of their opening six games.

But so too has the new coaching structures which, even though they are still finding their feet, have brought a new style of play to the province as they look to improve from perennial underachievers to trophy winners.

With Jono Gibbes, Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon on board, the former and latter of whom both specialise in forwards work, Treadwell admits he can see a shift in the thought processes at Kingspan Stadium for the better.

“Since the new coaches have come in there is more of an edge and more of a competition for places in training, which is good for and I feel excited to get out on the training pitch,” he says, excitedly.

“Everyone is doing it with a smile on their face and there is a lot of chat and good communication within the team.

“Our mini-units are working well, and this week I feel there is an extra edge, which is what we need to put our performance on the park.”

This week more than any as Ulster embark on another European journey, one they hope will go a little differently to their last few.

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Adam McKendry

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