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'I've had the opportunity to play, that's the best thing you can have'

Marty Moore didn’t make the Six Nations squad, but he is thriving since returning to Ireland.

WHEN HE MADE his return to Ireland with a move to Ulster, Marty Moore made no secret of the fact he harboured ambitions to return to the national squad.

Marty Moore, Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath with the trophy Moore celebrating Joe Schmidt's first title with Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Out of the inner circle since 2015, when he opted to join Wasps from Leinster, the tighthead had hoped that a change of scenery would hopefully spark a return to form that would boost his selection hopes.

Instead of dominating the scrum in the Premiership, he too often found himself stuck on the bench in Coventry when not in the team’s medical room. Further out of sight and mind of the Ireland coaching ticket.

The big move hadn’t worked out. So when Ulster came calling for his services this season to solve their problematic tighthead position, impressed enough by what they saw in their Champions Cup meetings with Wasps last season, the decision wasn’t long in the making.

At the start of last month, Moore got the first indication that his decision to return to home shores was indeed the right one when he was name-checked by Schmidt as someone the national selectors had their eyes on.

“I’ve said it before, it’s always in the back of the mind but it’s not something I’m part of at the moment,” says the 27-year-old, while also admitting that he hasn’t spoken to Schmidt in any real depth about how to improve.

I know the only way to get there is through good form with my club. Hopefully I can make an impression on that scene, but we’ll see what the future holds. The eyes are firmly on Ulster Rugby at the moment.”

It was no real surprise to see him name-checked, however. Moore’s ability was never in question given the success he had with Leinster as both a terrifying ball carrier as well as an anchor in the scrum as they won two PRO12 titles and a Heineken Cup.

While that kind of ability never seemed to translate in England, in Ulster he has slotted into the tighthead jersey with relative ease and managed to not only solidify a shaky scrum, but turn it into something of a weapon.

Add onto that the fact he’s slimmed down and improved his work-rate around the pitch and Moore is starting to look like someone who could easily hold down the right side of Ulster’s scrum for the foreseeable future – particularly if the national honours return as a result.

He made an instant impact when he came in and made his debut against Leicester in the Champions Cup and continued to do so. He has missed just one game since then, scored his first try against Leicester at Welford Road and has averaged 10.5 tackles per game to go with his relentless work rate.

Marty Moore Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“To date, it’s been a good season, touch wood. I’ve been relatively injury free and I’ve been able to play my rugby,” says the 27-year-old.

“I’ve had the opportunity to play and that’s the best thing you can have as a player. It gives you the opportunity to grow your game and improve. You’re not waiting around for the chance or the opportunity to improve on something. It comes around quite quickly.

“It’s been a very enjoyable year on my part. In the set-piece, that’s more a unit thing, but outside that, trying to develop around the field, whether in attack or defence depending on what the requirements on a given day, I’m happy to do either.”

Speaking of the scrum, the change that has occurred in what was a weakness in Ulster’s game last season has been remarkable, the set-piece looking completely unrecognisable from last season under the guidance of Dan McFarland.

The emergence of Eric O’Sullivan has been a nice and unexpected surprise, while McFarland’s expertise in the front row has been at the forefront of the improvements, but Moore’s ability to come in and add international quality has been just as important as well.

Last weekend, in the slog-fest that was Ulster’s 8-0 win over the Ospreys in Bridgend, Moore schooled Samoan international loosehead Jordan Lay at every scrum as the combined front row once again flexed their newfound muscles to earn the dominant forward platform.

It hasn’t always been that way, though. The first few months of the season saw the set-piece go through some teething problems as the new system was put into place, and while Moore worked his way back from injury to begin the campaign, but now it and the maul have become real strengths for Ulster.

“The biggest difference is the cohesion,” explains Moore of the difference between now and the start of the season. “It’s not a major thing. It was not as if someone had a great idea. It was just that we are now on the same page.

“We were just not going to scrummage up high or try to run across the park as we are not a huge pack. So we need to be smart and technical, and when we do that we can be effective. We show that every week, so we have to build on that.”

Tonight, Ulster will hope to build off that win over the Ospreys – their first on the road in the league since they won at Benetton in November – by taking down Italian side Zebre at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm).

With Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 so tight, there’s no room for error whatsoever, with just five points separating second place from fifth in the race for the play-offs and also the race to avoid missing out on the Heineken Champions Cup for next season.

Ulster are joined in that battle by Edinburgh, Benetton and Scarlets and, unfortunately for all the teams involved, four into three doesn’t go. Two talented sides will miss out on the play-offs and at least one will be guaranteed miss out on the Champions Cup next season.

With three tough fixtures to finish – Glasgow (a), Edinburgh (a) and Leinster (h) – Ulster in particular have no wriggle room in which to work as they need to capitalise on what looks like an easy run of fixtures coming up now, with a trip to the Dragons and a home tie against the Southern Kings following tonight.

“Coming off the back of European games, we didn’t want to be chasing our tails coming April and May and needing to win four games in a row for a play-off spot, so that’s been the mentality every week since Europe and that continues on through this week,” admits Moore.

“Every point counts every week so we have to get as many as we can and not leave it too late in the season like last season. Last year the lads were heart-breakingly close to making the play-offs and had some great wins but it just wasn’t enough.

“Too little too late, so we don’t want a repeat of that.”

With Ulster having had their international contingent ripped away with the return of the Six Nations, they’ll at least take comfort in that they haven’t been as badly affected as Zebre, who will be without eight players who are away with the Azzurri.

 

Sione Kalafamoni with Marty Moore Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Still, that doesn’t mean tonight’s visitors to Belfast will roll over and gift wrap the five points to their hosts. Last weekend they gave a very timely reminder that they can be a dangerous opponent when not given the respect that they deserve.

Their scrummaging performance in their 40-24 loss to Leinster was admirable as they went toe-to-toe with the all-international trio of Jack McGrath, James Tracy and Andrew Porter and edged the battle – and you can expect the same when they come calling to Kingspan Stadium.

Moore did watch that performance against some of his old team-mates and acknowledges that it’s going to be a huge test for Ulster’s front row tonight against what is sure to be a Zebre pack that is brimming with confidence and eager to cause an upset.

“When you look at Leinster, they’re going to go about things in a very similar fashion than we would, so it definitely helps, and it would give you an idea how to react to that situation, so it helps if they played an Irish province in the last week for us to get a heads up on what to expect,” says former Castleknock man Moore.

“They’ve picked up their attacking game. Like Benetton, they tend to hold the ball quite well and put you through the phases. They’re a dangerous attacking side and we’ve prepared for that accordingly, in defence especially.

“We don’t want them coming to us, we want to attack it. If we can take that away from them it can go along way to winning the game.”

Ulster

15. Louis Ludik
14. Robert Baloucoune
13. Darren Cave
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Rob Lyttle
10. Peter Nelson
9. Dave Shanahan

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rob Herring
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor (captain)
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Clive Ross
7. Sean Reidy
8. Nick Timoney

Replacements:

16. John Andrew
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Ross Kane
19. Ian Nagle
20. Greg Jones
21. Jonny Stewart
22. Johny McPhillips
23. James Hume

Zebre

15 Francois Brummer
14 Paula Balekana
13 Giulio Bisegni
12 Nicolas De Battista
11 James Elliott
10 Carlo Canna
9 Joshua Renton

1 Daniele Rimpelli
2 Oliviero Fabiani
3 Eduardo Bello
4 Leonard Krumov
5 George Biagi (captain)
6 Apisai Tauyavucatain
7 James Brown
8 Jacopo Bianchi

Replacements:

16 Luhandre Luus
17 Danilo Fischetti
18 Roberto Tenga
19 Lorenzo Masselli
20 Alessandro Mordacci
21 Riccardo Raffaele
22 Maicol Azzolini
23 Giovanbattista Venditti


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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