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Ireland prop O'Toole gaining wisdom from Vermeulen's influence in Ulster

Ulster are away to Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup tomorrow.

O'Toole is well regarded by Ireland boss Andy Farrell.
O'Toole is well regarded by Ireland boss Andy Farrell.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

DESPITE STILL ONLY being 23-years-old, Tom O’Toole is a man who exhibits wisdom beyond his years having made 70 appearances for Ulster and earned two caps for Ireland.

He’s been involved in big games in the Heineken Champions Cup and Pro14 at provincial level, while being a regular in squads under Andy Farrell’s time in charge at Carton House speaks volumes of how highly he is rated in the international set-up.

All this long before he reaches his ‘peak’ as a prop, too, which is widely considered to be somewhere around the mid- to late-20s. But such has been the education that O’Toole has had as a player already that he no longer feels like a youngster trying to make a name for himself.

Rather, he credits the likes of Rory Best and Iain Henderson for providing a good example for him to follow and, more recently, new arrival Duane Vermeulen for helping him reach his peak at the set-piece.

“When I first came in, I would have listened to every word that came out of those guys’ mouths,” says the Drogheda man.

“It’s great that I’ve matured and developed into a more seasoned player as I go on in my career but you never want to stop learning and growing as a player. When I first came in I had Iain Henderson talking about what they did in Irish camp, and I’ve now got a bit of experience of that.

“This year Duane has been massive with our scrum and maul, and his advice at set-piece. Slowly but surely you can see that in games and that mentality at the set-piece, which is great for me. Duane being part of the best scrum in the world, it’d be stupid for me not to listen.

“Between him and Dan (McFarland) and Roddy Grant, it’s been massive for me taking my game to a more experienced level and improving step by step. Listening to them has been huge.”

tom-otoole-celebrates-during-the-game O'Toole continues to battle with Marty Moore at tighthead. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Having recently signed a new deal with Ulster, O’Toole will form the cornerstone of the province’s pack for the next two years alongside Marty Moore, with the pair producing reliably consistent performances week in, week out under McFarland.

It has been mostly Moore who has been given the starts in the big games, with O’Toole seen as adding more value as an impact sub – as it is for tomorrow’s Champions Cup tie at the Northampton Saints – but it is the younger man who has been receiving international recognition off the back of that.

Continuing to get the call to link up with the Ireland squad was a big reason behind O’Toole tying down his future at Kingspan Stadium for the foreseeable future, but he also adds that he feels he has something to give back to the province first and foremost.

“For me, Ulster has been home since I was 16-years-old. They mean so much to me and I feel so comfortable here. Seeing how much the squad has grown since I came here, it was an easy decision to sign for another two years and hopefully they will be about producing more performances for the squad,” he says.

“With my goals and with my hopes with international rugby, I really want to be involved with Andy Farrell’s group and being involved around there.

“So, for me, just being in the squad and giving back to what Ulster have given me over the last few years – letting me develop, being patient with me and letting me grow as a player – hopefully at the end of this year and beyond I can start to put in some quality performances and give back to the club that has given so much to me.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, it’s such a good group of guys and the coaches are brilliant. Hopefully over the next few years we’ll be competing. We want to win silverware, that’s our goal, there’s no point lying about it.”

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ulsters-tom-otoole Ulster are away to Northampton tomorrow.

Having set themselves up nicely in the Champions Cup after winning their first two games against Clermont and the Saints, Ulster now face the challenge of securing home advantage in the knockouts by doing the double over both sides in the next two weeks.

While there would have been questions over previous Ulster sides and their ability to capitalise on such a situation, O’Toole believes this side has shown over the past few months how they have improved in that regard, particularly after their disappointments in Europe last season against Gloucester and Leicester Tigers.

“We’ve grown massively as a group. We’ve put in some big performances away to Leinster and Clermont, it’s just bringing that consistency, and that’s what we’re learning and building,” adds the prop.

“Every team is going to present us with a new challenge and we have to be ready for that each week. You can have a game plan going into each week, but ultimately when you go out there things can change and we have to adapt on the run.

“I think we’re getting better at that compared to the Connacht game where some concerns were raised. This group is still growing and we don’t want to be growing forever, we want to start putting in some quality performances. It’s all about consistency.”

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