Treadwell and Ulster eager to put their best foot forward

Athletic Ireland second row won’t lack for incentive when he lines up against high-flying Leinster at the Aviva

Kieran Treadwell likes to save the fire and brimstone for the weekend.

That’s an exaggeration, he prefers to build the emotional intensity closer to game time when it’s more relevant.

At the start of a match week his focus is on analysis, embracing the detail of the game plan and translating it to the training pitch.

Sitting behind a wooden desk at the Kingspan Stadium on a Monday afternoon, he is the epitome of calm, measured in his responses and easily straddles the line between confident and bullish. He’s happy to correct any notion that an Ulster victory at the Aviva Stadium would constitute a major surprise.


“I don’t know if it would be an upset; we always back ourselves. We’ve definitely got the team and performance in us to do it. I’m confident going into the weekend. I’m the sort of person that will stay quite calm and do all my analytic work at the start of the week and try to bring that emotional side into it towards the end.”

It wouldn’t always have been his way, a fact that he acknowledged last year, in highlighting a change in outlook with regards to his rugby, inspired by his fiancée Beth Miller. She used to text, ‘good luck’ before matches but amended it to ‘go out and really enjoy yourself’.

It resonated with him, and instead of being outcome-driven Treadwell refocused on enjoying the process of improving, conscious of not getting in his own way mentally, which coincided with an upturn in fortunes on the pitch.

He has won six of his 11 Ireland caps since last July including coming on in all three Tests in the series victory over New Zealand, six years after making his debut as a 21-year-old on a two-Test tour to Japan. It marked a definitive moment in his rugby career. His mum, Liz, originally from Longford, moved to Carshalton in South London as a child.

Amongst Treadwell’s schoolmates at John Fisher School in Croydon was the current England number eight Alex Dombrandt; the pair were also part of the Harlequins academy.

Treadwell played for Ireland, first, and then England, at Under-18 and Under-20 levels, where at the latter age-grade he helped the team to a runner-up position in the Junior World Championship.

Ulster then made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he moved to Belfast. His first three Ireland caps in 2017 were followed by a four-year gap until his fourth and fifth in the 2022 Six Nations Championship and then six more since including seven minutes off the bench against England in the recent Grand Slam decider.

Treadwell had to come to terms with playing in the November Test series and then being omitted from the original Six Nations squad. What was the message from Irish head coach Andy Farrell?

“I think for me it is consistency, always having those off moments whether it be in attack or defence just always being there, always being present.

“It’s the enjoyment in it, enjoy getting better, enjoy stringing performances together. I sort of went backwards in that I suppose instead of it all being outcome-based, ‘I need to win this, I need to get picked, I need to do this,’ where I’m doing this to get better and I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

“There is always an expectation, you know your own ability and you know how well you can play so there is always going to be that sort of pressure on yourself. It is how you grow within that and don’t let it drag you down, how you approach the occasion.”

Last December Ulster led Leinster 22-3 at the interval in the RDS with a man advantage after Cian Healy was sent off but lost the game 38-29, the start of a tailspin in results terms for a couple of months before a recent run of five wins in the last six matches.

Treadwell explained that the coaching group and players rescued some positives from a general aura of disappointment but that it took a while for the general performance to reach the requisite levels to start winning again consistently.

He outlined the folly of being overly fixated on, or stimulated by, Leinster’s accomplishments.

“It’s all about focusing on us. We’ve got the plan, the players and the performance in us to do that. Obviously, you [must] look and do your analysis and that and try and see if you can find out little bits and bobs that you can use to your benefit but it’s all about this week.”

As if to offer an example he deflects a question about how Ross Byrne differs to the injured Johnny Sexton and whether it will make a substantial difference to the way that Leinster will play.

“He’s [Ross Byrne] a similar enough player to Johnny. Obviously, Johnny is Johnny.

“I’m going to sound like a parrot but it’s about focusing on ourselves and how we can impose ourselves on the game and not taking a massive focus on individuals because they’ve [Leinster] got loads of great individuals and so do we but it’s [about] that collectiveness and imposing our game onto them.”

There are obviously personal sidebars in performance terms and how they might influence Farrell’s thinking when it comes to compiling his World Cup squad. But, as Treadwell has come to learn, it is about staying in the moment and enjoying it that brings out his best.

But for 80 minutes this evening it is all about Ulster.

“I have been here for seven years, and it would mean everything to me and everyone here [to win some silverware]. We work so hard, and no one sees the nitty gritty bits we do, the work we do at home on the laptops and that sort of stuff. The amount of man hours and work we put in, it would mean so much to us all.”

Doubtless it will be reflected in the performance.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer