Tom O’Toole joy over return for Ulster

Ulster's Tom O'Toole on international duty for Ireland. (Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images)
Ulster's Tom O'Toole on international duty for Ireland. (Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images)

The province’s scrum had struggled in the United Rugby Championship opener against Zebre, conceding a number of penalties at the set piece.

Just two weeks after Ireland’s elimination by the All Blacks at the World Cup, O’Toole was thrust into the Ulster front row for Sunday’s clash against the Bulls.

The tight head prop did the full 80 minutes, threw a great pass to set Jacob Stockdale for a try and collected the ‘Man-of-the-Match’ award.

“Me and Dan (McFarland, Ulster head coach) had a conversation about game-time over the last few weeks and, obviously I was injured at the end of last season, so the last few months I haven't really played as much rugby as I would have liked,” said O’Toole. “It was just having that conversation about coming back in and getting playing, I was happy enough to do that.

“The last few weeks in France, obviously I kept fit, kept myself motivated, so I was in a good head space to come back in...if I'd come back after a week, that would probably have been a bit too soon.

“But I won't lie, at the start of the week you're adjusting to things, you're asking yourself if it was the right move to come back early.

“But the excitement to play rugby again, I haven't played a lot of rugby these last months, I was really excited to back, back in front of the home crowd, a new pitch with a bit of a buzz around it, I was excited.

“Physically I don't feel too was just getting mentally back into it.

"To be honest, I was quite bored at home, I was losing my marbles a bit so getting back in, getting playing, back on a schedule, into a routine, really helped me.”

McFarland neglected to inform O’Toole he was doing a full shift.

“He didn't tell me that, no,” laughed the prop. “Do you know what? Sometimes you need those types of ones, hopefully I'll be better for it.”

After just a few training sessions and one game O’Toole is a fan of Ulster’s new 3G pitch at Kingspan Stadium.

“Fortunately, I got a week of training and got a good feel for it,” he said. “It held up really well, especially in the conditions, it held well under foot, especially in the set piece.

“It takes a while to get used to with studs and just adjusting to make sure the scrum goes okay but I really enjoyed it.

“It’s faster, a bit more free-flowing, I enjoyed it you have to keep working hard, hopefully, with a bit more match fitness that will come.

“The way we like to play, building phases to break down teams, it's definitely something where we know that we can get the space that we want's moving into position quickly, that's the key to us for attacking well.”

Ulster travel to Galway on Saturday night to face Connacht and have revenge on their mind after the western province beat them in the URC quarter-final last season.

“That quarter-final hurt us, it stayed with guys,” said O’Toole. “I was injured, unfortunately I couldn't play, but it stayed with a lot of guys.

“That sting, that hurt...especially at home, we always back ourselves at home no matter what.

“I think it will be a bit of motivation, Connacht have been playing really well the last couple of games.

“They play quite free-flowing as well, it'll be real entertaining, a fast game, always physical as an inter-pro.

“Going down there, set-piece wise, physicality-wise, it'll be a challenge but if the weather allows it'll be free-flowing.”