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Ulster's Gilroy ready to savour his 150th cap after months of waiting

Craig Gilroy suffered a back injury earlier this year which held him back from reaching the 150 mark.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Adam McKendry reports from Port Elizabeth

ON A COLD Friday night in Cardiff in November 2010, a fresh faced young winger made people sit up and notice with two tries on his Ulster debut.

Seven years later, he sits baking in the heat of Port Elizabeth ready to make his 150th cap for his province, and is no less excited to be pulling on the white jersey.

“I’m delighted, I’ve been sitting on 149 for about five or six months so it’s good to finally get it!” Craig Gilroy laughs.

I had that stint out where I was injured, had to do a lot of rehab to get back, but it’s great to finally be back and it’s an added bonus I can mark it with the milestone of my 150th.”

The 26-year old has packed into a short career what many in their lives won’t, from making that immediate impact in the Cardiff City Stadium right the way up to the present day.

He’s been in and out of the Ulster team, as well as making fleeting appearances for Ireland, including his international debut in 2012 against Argentina.

He’s made ten appearances in the green jersey, to go with his 149 for Ulster, scoring five tries to add to the 48 he’s scored at club level.

In fact, November will prove to be a monumental month for the former Methody pupil – not only is it the month he made his debut and will hit the 150 mark, it’s also the month he faced the Pumas at the Aviva Stadium on his international bow.

This 150th, however, has been a long time coming. He was due to get it on the opening day of the season, only for a horribly timed back injury cruelly ruling him out for the opening nine weeks.

The worst thing for me was the pre-season we had was probably one of the most enjoyable pre-seasons I’ve had with Ulster in my tenure,” he recalls. “I felt I was in the best shape in terms of fitness.

“Then to be sidelined for nine weeks it was kind of frustrating, but I kept myself busy and stayed positive during training and my rehab.

“I just kept ticking over, and the most important thing was to get myself right and be able to play again. Fortunately that happened and now we’re here.”

Here would be an historic trip to Port Elizabeth and the Isaac Wolfson Stadium to take on the Southern Kings in their latest Guinness Pro14 clash, with the tourists needing a big win following defeats to Leinster and La Rochelle.

It seems like this would be the perfect game to do so then. The Kings aren’t exactly quality opposition, with a record of seven losses, zero wins and zero points in the league so far.

They prop up Conference B of the Pro14 and their dire form serves as a stark contrast to the surging Cheetahs, who are in the play-off spots in Conference A. Add in dwindling attendances, and the future seems bleak for Deon Davids’ side.

But many unknowns surround this game, none more so than the new venue located in the township of Kwazakhele to the north of the city, the 6,000 capacity stadium a far cry from the Kings’ usual home of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The move has been dressed up as bringing rugby to the wider community in Port Elizabeth, but an attempt to boost footfall to the games is more than likely also a reason for the switch with Kings’ chiefs expecting a much improved attendance today.

On top of that a heatwave has seared through the city this week, raising temperatures to a staggering 33 for yesterday’s captain’s run, with the humidity expected to stay high for today’s game.

Regardless, Gilroy is focused on the opposition and believes that as long as Ulster focus on getting their own game right then they can end the mini-tour on a high.

“We’ve had a good look at them and they have a lot of speed in their team, and they don’t kick much,” the winger explains.

“They’ll be unpredictable, and it’s an unpredictable place to play. So we’ll see, if we get our detail right and do what we have to do then the points will take care of themselves.”

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