12 Dec, 11:30
The Ireland Under-19 team to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill this Saturday afternoon (kick-off 2.30pm) has been announced.
After a terrifying car crash during the summer, Ulster and Ireland lock Matt McCullough has a new perspective on life.
Just after the completion of the Churchill Cup in June, the Ballymena man and his Ulster team mates Roger Wilson and Andrew Maxwell took off together for a road trip around the Rocky Mountains in Canada.
What followed must have seemed like a scene from a horror movie as, with McCullough at the wheel, the players' car caught some gravel and was flipped down the side of a hill.
Miraculously all three emerged with their lives intact, although the 25-year-old McCullough had lost consciousness and when he reached hospital, needed plastic surgery and a multitude of stitches to repair some horrific head wounds.
McCullough, Wilson and Maxwell all start for Ulster in tonight's Magners League derby tie with Connacht (The Sportsground, kick-off 6.30pm).
The Canadian car crash was certainly a life-changing experience for McCullough, who recounted his incredible story in Belfast earlier this week.
- ON THE CAR CRASH -
"Maxy (Andrew Maxwell) was listening to music in the back and Roger (Wilson) was beside me. I veered to the edge of the road where there were some loose stones. I was looking around at the countryside and as soon as I heard the noise, I hit the brakes and turned the wheel and the car spun.
"It went off the road, down a hill and flipped into the air. The A-frame of the car snapped and hit me right on the head and the car rolled.
"When the car stopped, I was unconscious. Maxy jumped out and got Roger out. Roger ripped his T-shirt off and wrapped it around my head to try and stop the bleeding.
"Maxy went back up to the road and hailed down a police man and a paramedic, who luckily were passing by. One came down and got me out of the car and taped me up and somebody else went on down to the next village to phone for air support, which arrived and lifted me to Calgary Hospital.
"I can never thank Roger and Maxy enough for how they looked after me. They are great mates who did save my life at the time. They looked after me so well. There were definitely stages when they were with me that they weren't sure whether I was going to survive it or not. They know I am thankful and I hope they understand how thankful I am."
- ON HIS RECOVERY -
"I had 127 stitches and twice as many underneath the cut to stitch down my scalp - I had been basically scalped. The doctors were also worried about possible fractures in my neck, my skull and a ruptured spleen. Thankfully all turned out to be negative. It was a rib injury I picked up against England in the Churchill Cup looked like the spleen.
"Thankfully by the time my mum, who had been on holiday in Portugal, arrived that had all been cleared and I just had a bad wound to my head and a load of swelling. I was cleared to leave five days later and flew back with my mum to Belfast.
"(I was back at Newforge within three weeks) I just wanted to meet the guys, to be around the squad again and start the healing process. Within another week, I saw neurosurgeons and radiologists and was cleared by them.
"It was then just about getting my fitness back and it is surprising how badly an incident like that hits your fitness! It was a bit of a slog to get back to full fitness."
...McCullough in action for Ireland 'A' during the summer...
- ON PLAYING RUGBY AGAIN -
"I am still happy to stick my head into places. The mental bit was surprisingly easy. I was just so hungry to play. I want to play every minute of every game now.
"If it wasn't really for family, friends and the support I got from Ulster Rugby, there is no way I would be back playing at this stage. My parents have been unbelievably supportive. I was taking everything the wrong way and looking at the downside and they just told me to be patient and get through it.
"I had goodwill messages from members of Ballymena rugby club, and Roger Wilson's parents brought Roger and Andrew Maxwell to the hospital in Calgary. I can't thank those guys enough because at that stage, it really was the small things that made the difference.
"I know that there a lot of people who are supporting me and wanting me to do well. It reminds you of how much Ulster Rugby means to people and how proud I am to be an Ulsterman and playing in an Ulster jersey.
"It's not that I didn't know that was always there, it is just that it became so apparent and so clear. I think my outlook is definitely a lot more rounded now. Maybe before it was all just about playing rugby. Now I look at it as just a rugby match. All I want to do is make sure I do everything right so that come the weekend, I can play as well as I can."