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Ballymena man Andrew Warwick making powerful impression at Ulster

The 23-year-old loosehead prop made his European debut for the province last weekend in Leicester.

THERE WAS A brief, but decisive, moment towards the end of the first half of Ulster’s defeat to Leicester last weekend that perfectly summed up Andrew Warwick’s growing confidence.

36:51 on the clock, Craig Gilroy in the sin bin and Ulster already trailing 19-3. With Leicester pummelling the northern province’s line, the sense was that another Tigers try would extinguish any hopes of recovery for Neil Doak’s side.

With a 15-metre channel on the blindside, Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs switched play to the left, where Warwick was essentially left marking both Blaine Scully and Miles Benjamin. The home side’s wings’ eyes surely lit up.

Warwick

The Ulster loosehead reacted superbly, sprinting off the defensive line and slowing Scully enough to allow Wiehan Herbst to arrive and finish the tackle. Ulster survived, got to half time at 19-3 and thereafter mounted enough of a resurgence to claim a bonus point.

“I think they had two men out, so I just thought I had to get off the line,” is how Warwick succinctly describes his actions.

The 23-year-old has enjoyed a swift rise, shifting from playing in the Ulster Bank League with Ballymena RFC to winning his first European cap for his native province at Welford Road within eight short months.

I’ve played with good players throughout my career, I feel I deserve to be here as much as anyone else,” says Warwick, who has looked entirely comfortable since making his Ulster debut off the bench against Cardiff in March, 2014.

An U18 Schools and U20 representative for the province in his younger years, Warwick had a brief stint with Ulster’s sub-academy before slipping out of the system.

Two seasons later, and by then working as a truck driver for his father’s Warwick Engineering company, Ulster’s elite performance manager Allan Clarke [now forwards coach under Doak] brought the front row back on board with the province’s ‘A’ team.

“I was just enjoying my rugby at Ballymena and luckily Clarky saw me playing and brought me in for the Ravens. I think there was a few injuries and I played well in the two games before Christmas [2012].”

Andrew Warwick Warwick feels at home in Kingspan Stadium. Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Warwick’s impressive form saw him secure an academy contract for the 2013/14 season, but sitting in the new Kingspan Stadium, you wouldn’t guess he was anything less than a veteran of five seasons.

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Warwick has served his time as a hooker and tighthead, but jokes that he would “definitely not” be confident about stepping in on throwing duties against Toulon in Belfast on Saturday.

The influence of former Ireland prop Bryan Young, now coaching at Ballymena, has been vital to Warwick’s growth as a player. Young, regarded as a technically superb scrummager in his playing days, has been handing down the tricks of the trade.

Just looseheads keeping your right shoulder through, always keep down and through, don’t drive up,” says Warwick of what Young has hammered into him.

“I was speaking to him before the Leinster game last year, when I had to play tighthead. He helped me out there, because he played a bit at loosehead and tighthead. That certainly gave me a bit more confidence going into it.”

Warwick also mentions John Andrews as a key coaching influence along his rugby journey, having worked under him at Ballymena club and in school at Ballymena Academy.

Andrew Warwick is stopped Warwick made his Ulster debut against Cardiff last season. Source: Huw Evans/INPHO

“John helped me throughout school,” says Warwick, before indicating that Andrews’ preferred playing style allowed him to develop his skills away from the set-piece: “He let us play a little more in school, a little more free-flowing rugby.”

Ireland is benefiting from a strong generation of loosehead props at present, but it’s likely that Warwick will contend for international honours should his trajectory continue upwards in the fashion it has so far.

For now, he’s focused on more pressing matters, like taking on Toulon tighthead and captain Carl Hayman on Saturday afternoon.

Just a big lad, we suggest.

“Ah, he can scrum too!”

The evidence so far suggests Warwick will be up to the test.

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