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'It's definitely not a route I'd recommend. It's quite tough'

Clive Ross had to take the hard way, but is now loving playing with Ulster.

CHAMPIONS CUP RUGBY and Pro12 starts didn’t always seem close for Clive Ross, but his self-belief and willingness to work hard mean he has enjoyed both with Ulster.

The Cork man, who starts in the province’s clash with Treviso in Italy this evening [KO 5.05pm Irish time, BBC NI], didn’t enjoy a big reputation as an underage player and his route into the professional game was circuitous.

Clive Ross Ross starts for Ulster again this evening. Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

Now 27, Ross is in his third season with Ulster and making up for lost time. His performance at blindside in last weekend’s win over the Dragons was outstanding and director of rugby Les Kiss will hope for more of the same against Treviso.

“I was happy with my performance,” says Ross. “I got a couple of turnovers and a few front-foot carries. I was happy to get the 80 minutes as well.”

Not too many Cork men end up playing for Ulster, but then Ross’ career has not been the usual one.

He is a first cousin of Ireland and Leinster prop Mike, who “lived up the road” in Ballyhooly when they were children. Mike’s brothers were closer to Clive’s age, so he spent more time with them, but the tighthead prop has been a useful contact in recent years.

“I’d call him if I ever wanted to chat about anything, he’s well experienced in the game,” says Ross.

The Ulster flanker only started playing rugby when he joined Midleton College for secondary school. Dave O’Callaghan, now with Munster, was in the same year and they combined strongly in the back row.

It was O’Callaghan who rose through the ranks quicker, however, and though Ross was a good schools player he wasn’t able to make enough of an impression to earn a place in Munster’s academy or sub-academy.

Instead, he headed for Dublin to begin a Mechanical Engineering degree in UCD. But rugby was always among his thoughts, and he joined De La Salle Palmerston – where he made “great friends” – with professional ambitions somewhere at the back of his mind.

Clive Ross Ross in Lansdowne colours in 2012. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Having shone with DLS, Ross moved on to Lansdowne and impressed as the Dublin club won the 2012/13 Ulster Bank League title. Securing a professional contract was by now a strong motivator for the Cork native.

“I would have always had a large amount of self-belief,” says Ross when asked what made him think he could make it in pro rugby.

“I had good friends like Dave, who kicked on and played Irish Schools and stuff. I always thought I was never too far behind, you know?

“Playing club rugby then with Lansdowne, I was coming up against a lot of guys in the academy who were with UCD. I would have played against guys like Jack Conan a good few times with Belvo and a lot of other guys in the same position as me.

“Coming up against them week in, week out and you’re thinking ‘these guys aren’t a whole lot better then me.’”

Lansdowne has produced a number of professional players in recent times, and Ross says it was the perfect environment for someone with his ambition.

“We had Mike Ruddock in charge, he’s still there,” explains the Ulster back row. “So you’ve got a former Grand Slam-winning coach in charge. Emmet Farrell [Leinster's performance analyst] was there as backs coach, but has since moved onto Blackrock.

“The couple of years I was there, some of the players we had have really kicked on. We had Craig Ronaldson at out-half, we had Matt Healy was well. Marty Moore was playing for us that year, Tom Sexton, Jack O’Connell, Jordi Murphy even played a few games.

“So mixing with those boys and training with them was invaluable to me. And again, playing with those guys and making an impression on game day led to my belief that I could go further.”

Clive Ross Ross had had plenty of European exposure for Ulster. Source: Ian Cook/INPHO

Having lost Stephen Ferris to retirement, Ulster were on the lookout for back rows in 2014 and Ross’ agent – Mike’s father – made the connection.

Ross met with David Humphreys and agreed to sign on a trial basis for the summer, joining his Lansdowne back row partner Charlie Butterworth in making the move north.

By the time the 2014/15 season rolled around, Ross had done enough to convince Ulster to sign him full-time and he went on to make 18 appearances that season, including five in the Champions Cup [two starts against the Scarlets and Toulon].

Last season brought a further 10 appearances and more Champions Cup exposure.

Given that he is now achieving so much with Ulster, one might think Ross is glad he took the unusual route he did.

But the 27-year-old says his journey through club rugby was a genuine slog.

“It’s definitely not a route I’d recommend. It is quite tough,” says Ross. “At the back of your head, you’re always thinking ‘who’s even looking at these games?’ On a Saturday afternoon, it’s not as if there are a lot of scouts there.

“Getting an opportunity to play for one of the provinces in Ireland is obviously the ideal way. Even during my time, the idea of going across to the Championship was quite daunting. You’re moving away and even the type of game played over there is not the most expansive.

“Charlie, who came up here, moved across to play for Jersey and it was all about size. Every time they got a lineout, they mauled it. It can be a bit of a graveyard for players.

“If you miss the boat and you don’t get into an academy, it does take a massive amount of self-drive, because you’re missing out on all the training that a bloke in the academy would get, especially for a forward – all the physical stuff and gym work.

Clive Ross Ross and Ulster face Treviso in Italy today. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

“I was very fortunate to get an opportunity here in Ulster. There definitely could be other guys playing AIL now who are able for bigger things, but it’s not a route I’d recommend.”

Now that he is established in the professional game, Ross plans to win. He is as hungry as anyone in Ulster and part of a squad that feels a trophy is their next progression.

“Winning silverware with the squad we have is definitely an achievable target for us,” says Ross. “From a personal aspect, [I want to] be as heavily involved in that as I can be. There’s a lot of competition when everyone’s back.

“We signed someone like [Marcell] Coetzee as well, so he’s going to be a hard lad to shift. For me, I’ve got a great opportunity here and I want to do it for as long as I can, give it my all for the time I have.

“You’re not going to play rugby for the rest of your life. I’m 27 now and I’d love to get another 10 years out of it. Success drives you. You’re judged by what you win at the end of the day and that’s what drives me.”

The journey continues in Stadio Monigo today.

Ulster:

15. Louis Ludik
14. Rob Lyttle
13. Luke Marshall
12. Stuart Olding
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Brett Herron
9. Ruan Pienaar

1. Kyle McCall
2. Rob Herring (c)
3. Rodney Ah You
4. Kieran Treadwell
5. Franco van der Merwe
6. Clive Ross
7. Sean Reidy
8. Roger Wilson

Replacements:

16. John Andrew
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Ross Kane
19. Pete Browne
20. Robbie Diack
21. Angus Lloyd
22. Stuart McCloskey
23. Darren Cave

Treviso:

15. Jayden Hayward
14. Angelo Esposito
13. Tommaso Benvenuti
12. Luke McLean (captain)
11. Andrea Buondonno
10. Tommaso Allan
9. Giorgio Bronzini

1. Nicola Quaglio
2. Ornel Gega
3. Simone Ferrari
4. Marco Fuser
5. Filo Paulo
6. Francesco Minto
7. Marco Lazzaroni
8. Marco Barbini

Replacements:

16. Roberta Santamaria
17. Alberto De Marchi
18. Tiziano Pasquali
19. Filippo Gerosa
20. Dean Budd
21. Edoardo Gori
22. Ian McKinley
23. David Odiete

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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