Kyle McCall continuing to thrive for Ulster

Ulster frontrower has enjoyed whirlwind introduction after learning trade in AIL

This has been quite a breakthrough season for Kyle McCall. He didn't make his full competitive debut until November, yet having started both of the back-to-back European Champions Cup wins over Toulouse, McCall has been the sort of infusion of fresh-faced, home- grown, enthusiastic talent that every provincial side needs every season. He looks like he's having a blast, and he is.

Coming into this season, McCall had made just four appearances, all off the bench, for Ulster, and only made his first competitive start in the Guinness Pro12 defeat away to the Dragons at the start of November. However, a man-of-the-match performance in his third start, the win at home to Edinburgh in early December, was sufficient for Les Kiss to name him as his starting number one for the original, postponed tie away to Oyonnax, and McCall started both of the wins over Toulouse, as well as last Saturday's game against Munster.

“I’m enjoying it,” he says, which, judging by his demeanour, seems the understatement of the season. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind and a rollercoaster, but I’m enjoying being part of the squad and trying to perform to keep a spot.


“It is a bit of a dream, but it was a dream that I wanted to come true, and it’s happening for me, so it’s about me bringing energy and performing week-in, week-out.”


Having turned 24 last Saturday, as McCall’s fledgling career profile suggests, he’s had to be patient, but he understands that comes with the position.

“It’s been a building process. Especially for a frontrower, it does take a bit longer and you do need that experience in the All-Ireland League and age-grade. You need to be patient as a frontrower.”

He was part of the Ireland under-20 side that beat Wales, France, Italy and Scotland in the 2012 Six Nations before losing a Grand Slam shoot-out away to England. He then missed out on the Under-20 World Cup through injury.

Along with the under-20s, another key building block in his career was club rugby with Ballynahinch. “The club game is so vital, and I loved playing for Ballynahinch. When I began playing we were in 2A and went up to 1B and eventually 1A, and I played 1A for the last two seasons. Scrumming against those older fellas, and even the younger props trying to break through in their provinces, is a great learning experience. Everyone needs to go through it. It’s so much tougher in 1A. It’s a great testing ground.”


It also meant he was that much more hardened when his opportunity knocked this season. As well as holding his own at scrum time against Census Johnston (despite conceding 25kg and over a decade’s frontline experience), a stunning feature of Ulster’s 25-23 win away to Toulouse was that McCall was their leading tackler, with a tally of 19 in 69 minutes.

“Obviously setpiece comes first. You need to perform there to get selected, but aside from that I just like the energy from the stadium and the atmosphere. I think it gives me a bit of a buzz and I just like to work for my team and give my all.”

McCall appears well set to fulfil his goal of becoming a professional with Ulster next season. To that end, his ambition this season is to “cement my place” and win silverware.


He wasn’t part of last Monday’s 50-strong Irish get-together in the Carton House, but in the longer-term, he makes no secret of his dream of playing for Ireland.

“I’m concentrating on playing well week-in, week-out, and trying to perform better for Ulster. If that leads to being brought into an Ireland set-up, that would be great. I would grab that with both hands.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times