Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
# Northern Exposure
Far from Sevens heaven as Timoney digs in for Ulster
Injuries in Les Kiss’ pack have fast-tracked the Dubliner to the extent that he was the senior man in the back row last weekend.

FOR A 22-year-old, Ulster back row Nick Timoney has already had a wide-ranging rugby career.

Nick Timoney Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO / INPHO

Starting out at Blackrock College, where he won the Senior Schools’ Cup in 2013 before captaining them to another success in 2014, the flanker was originally pencilled in as yet another talent who would eventually find their way into the Leinster squad off the end of their seemingly never-ending factory line.

But, faced with intense competition in the Leinster Academy from the likes of now Ireland internationals Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy, Timoney made the switch to Ulster in 2015 having impressed for the Ireland Under-20s.

On the face of it, rolling with the IRFU’s nudge north was a smart move given Ulster’s well-documented lack of forward prospects in their underage system. And yet he had to bide his time for his breakthrough into their senior set-up.

In fact, a trip to the Ireland Sevens system was sandwiched between his relocation up the M1 and his first appearance for Ulster, in the draw with the Cardiff Blues at Kingspan Stadium in April.

Nick Timoney goes over for a try Colm O'Neill / INPHO Timoney in Leinster schools action for Blackrock in 2014. Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

He made four appearances with the Ireland squad in the Rugby Europe Grand Prix last summer, with the pacy number eight admitting it was a key part of his development as a player.

“I’d say (it helped me a lot),” the flanker says with that unshakeable Dublin accent.

“Some aspects of sevens, because of the nature of it, mistakes are badly exposed so it helps to develop your skills all round.”

But now it’s all about making an impact in Belfast for Timoney, the Queen’s University forward revelling in an extended run of games for the Ulster senior side due to injuries to overseas imports Marcell Coetzee and Jean Deysel.

After three cameos towards the end of a terrible run to finish last season for Ulster, Timoney has established himself within the squad as a very viable option for Les Kiss in his back row, particularly at number eight, a position he hadn’t played regularly since school days.

He starred against this week’s opponents the Dragons in the reverse fixture in September, scoring twice and leading the team in metres, and, but for an unfortunate ankle injury away to Zebre, would undoubtedly have featured more.

“It was pretty frustrating,” he recalls. “I got my first three games at the end of last year and the season ended and it felt like a bit of disruption in trying to establish myself on the team and obviously I got injured.

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“It was bad timing but there are people who have been a lot more unlucky than I have with injuries and it is part of the game. I just said I would come back as soon as I could, hopefully get back into the team if I got the chance.”

Nick Timoney James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

He certainly has and, after Clive Ross went off injured against Treviso, Timoney’s five caps made him the most experienced member of the Ulster back row for 50 minutes.

With Aaron Hall on from the start making his debut and Timoney’s room-mate Greg Jones the replacement winning his first cap, it was without a doubt the most inexperienced breakdown trio Ulster have fielded in recent memory.

“We had a pretty young pack. I guess that is a pretty big bonus to show that we have the players to step in and do the job, I thought they did pretty well, the other two lads,” Timoney praises.

“(The win) probably wasn’t that convincing, but at least we got the result that we needed. It took a few big moments towards the end and we showed a bit of character to get there.”

This week,Ulster look to make it three wins on the trot in the Guinness Pro14 when they travel to face the Dragons. Though based on the feeling around Kingspan Stadium you certainly wouldn’t think so.

Despite taking nine points from a possible 10 in their last two games, the performances against the Southern Kings and Benetton weren’t up to standard, and ahead of two massive Champions Cup games against Harlequins improvement is a must.

“The performances haven’t been quite where you would want them to be,” Timoney admits. “I think we are excited about the fact there is room for improvement.

We have won seven from nine in the league so far and with room for improvement in our performances we can keep ourselves in a pretty good position and keep winning games, but also do it a bit more convincingly is our goal for the next few weeks.

“This is a pretty important game for us to get a good performance and hopefully get a win. Not just because of the position in the league we are in, we need to keep winning games, but a good performance puts us in good shape going into the Champions Cup fixtures as well.

“It’s going to be a tough place to go and I think the Dragons have brought a lot of focus into their home games this year and I know they have had a couple of results recently so they will be looking to get back on track and put in a big performance, so we just have to be ready for it.”

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