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A foot in touch, but in the door keeps Allen asking for more

Ulster’s wings are one of the most hotly contested positions in Ireland, little wonder Michael Allen won’t leave well enough alone.

Image: INPHO

‘GOOD ENOUGH’ IS just not good enough for Ulster wingers these days.

Perhaps that’s why Michael Allen keeps returning to the one that got away. Not to dwell and mope, but as a way to keep himself motivated. ‘Better’ is still ahead.

He added to his opening score in Galway by scoring two in the bonus-point win over Treviso. He might have had a hat-trick, but while forcing his body round into a perfect position to plant the ball on the line (pictured, but replayed here) his foot was left in touch.

“That would have been my favourite one,” Allen says. The two on the board are less appealing.

He tells a similar tale from his last outing on home turf at Ravenhill, the narrow 12 – 13 defeat in which he spilled a pass to his chest with the line begging.

“I’d have said it was my best performance in an Ulster shirt, even with dropping the pass, and I’m trying to build on that every single week.”

Building on that display, for the whole squad, meant a fortnight refocusing on handling skills, ready for zip-line passes taken at full tilt.

“A good skill-set was something that was stressed on us after the Glasgow game, especially on me – I dropped that ball. I beat myself up about it.

“It was disappointing, but it’s just about trying to get beyond that, get past it and I think today the skills were excellent. For my first try Tom Court, Rory best and Chris Henry were in the back-line passing the ball. It’s everything you want from your forwards.”

“It’s always nice to nice to score. Like Mark said, everyone inside on the pitch is doing their job; creating holes and getting the ball out to me. “

image©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

There is no sense of entitlement from Allen, no expectancy that his three tries in two games should seal his place the matchday 23 until Christmas. Ulster’s production line of quality wingers is seemingly working double shifts and none of them can rest on their laurels.

Rory Scholes starred for Ireland’s under 20s this summer, Chris Cochrane makes it hard not to picture a young Tommy Bowe, and once he’s marked himself out from his peers, Allen has Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy to contend with.

“The list of the back three just goes on and on, to be honest,” he says with a mix of weariness and pride.

“It’s tough to get a foot in the door, but I’m doing all I can. Hopefully I can just keep going and put a doubt in Mark’s head.”

On Friday, Allen played in a back-three alongside Gilroy and Bowe. His foot in the door thanks to Gilroy’s shift to fullback. “Yeah, keep him there,” Allen jokes with Anscombe on his shoulder.

When everybody is fit, competition is fierce up north, but Anscombe wished to pour cold water on the phrase ‘squad rotation’ when it was brought up:

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“We’ve got a big squad and there’s not a lot between them. We’ve to make sure we put pressure on the guys and we do,” said the Kiwi as he shifted the focus from the backs to the pack.

“We rested Nick [Williams] today, brought him in off the bench and Roger [Wilson] has been outstanding for us. It’s just about making sure we spread the workload and guys are ready for the opportunity when they get them.”

In his second season, Anscombe is already sick of being second best. Good enough just won’t cut it.

– Additional reporting by Megan Joyce

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