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'A shock to the system': Baloucoune relieved to see action after injury nightmare

The 23-year-old had to wait a year between Ulster appearances due to a hamstring avulsion last summer.

Image: UlsterRugby/Robyn McMurray/INPHO

ULSTER WING ROBERT Baloucoune is relieved to have minutes under his belt after a nightmare run of injuries kept him sidelined since rugby’s restart last summer.

The wing played 40 minutes of Ulster’s Pro14 win over the Ospreys on Friday, marking a return to competitive action after a year-long wait.

Baloucoune suffered a horrific hamstring injury in pre-season for rugby’s August return last year. The more recent syndesmosis was small change by comparison, but immensely frustrating as it set his recovery back just when full fitness felt within reach.

“Always good to be back on the pitch,” said the Enniskillen man in Ulster’s virtual press conference today.

“Doing my ankle again when I was getting back in the swing of things and training again was frustrating. I’m back on the pitch now, playing and training. Can’t really complain now.”

The 23-year-old admits hitting the ground running at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night didn’t come naturally. Training can only replicate so much of what is needed in full-contact competition.

“It was pretty good to get the ball early in the second half. I wasn’t beating around the bush. I felt it in the first few minutes too, just running around the pitch. But I got settled in after that shock to the system.

“It’s always different, a match, you can’t really train for it. You’re always looking to run over someone, looking to beat someone and it’s completely different to any sort of training.

“I enjoyed it and ready for next week.”

Next week, of course, is the Conference A decider against Leinster. Six points separate the sides before kick-off and the shortened season and the revised format mean that Ulster must decimate the difference on Saturday to keep hope of a final appearance alive.

Dan McFarland’s squad will be boosted by release of Stuart McCloskey and Tom O’Toole from Ireland camp, where Iain Henderson, Billy Burns and Rob Herring remain.

Lock Sam Carter is also unavailable after a concussion in training. Back rows Marcell Coetzee and Greg Jones remain doubts for the inter-pro. Jones is undergoing return to play protocols after a concussion against Ospreys, Coetzee is being monitored as he manages a thigh issue.

“We always back ourselves, especially at home. We’ll be looking to come out hard and put Leinster on the back foot from the start,” says Baloucoune.

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“We’re looking to get as many points as we can and keep the pressure on Leinster. And if they slip up we’re aiming to put that pressure on them.

“It’s our opportunity to show a performance. We’re just focusing on ourselves. If that means beating Leinster and putting down a good performance, that’s what we’re gonna do.”

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Sean Farrell

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