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Whitten On The Right Path With Ulster

Whitten On The Right Path With Ulster

Ian Whitten’s rise into the Ulster senior squad has been quite a rapid one. The 21-year-old centre was captaining Queen’s University in AIB League Division Three last season but now he is picking up ‘A’ and senior caps with his province at a rate of knots.

Ian Whitten was sprung from the bench during the latter stages of Ulster’s 32-6 defeat to Leinster in the Magners League last week, and he will be hoping for a greater ‘impact role’ as a replacement against the Ospreys on Friday.

Since making his debut for Matt Williams’ side against Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup in January, Whitten has certainly made an impression at Ravenhill and beyond.

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It is all a far cry from skippering Queen’s last season and even battling for his new club Ballymena in the top tier of the AIB League this term.

But the Ulster Academy star is taking it all in his stride, an approach that is reaping rewards for both him and the likes of flanker Willie Faloon, who also recently made his Ulster senior bow.

Asked about what it will be like to face a hugely talented Ospreys side, Whitten said: “Most teams tend to be pretty star-studded compared to what I’m playing against in the AIB League!

“I think that is just something you have to get used to and if you want to play for Ulster you have to play against the big names.

“I’m very thankful to Matt Williams, who gave me and a lot of the boys a chance. We’re very grateful to him that he has been favourable to the younger guys and I hoping I can start more games for Ulster in the future.”

Other players like Thomas Anderson, Darren Cave and Mark McCrea have come up through the Academy ranks to feature for Ulster in the Magners League and Heineken Cup this season and both Cave and McCrea have gained Ireland ‘A’ caps.

Whitten is viewed as a player very much on the rise and it was no surprise that he was presented with the Ulster Rugby Supporters’ Club’s Jack Kyle Bursary to help with his development into a professional player.

Whitten fondly recalls his provincial debut at the Stade Jean Bouin in January, where he lined up alongside Paul Steinmetz and faced the midfield might of Stade’s Mathieu Bastareaud and Mark Gasnier.

“It was totally different from playing in Division Three and it just like was a dream come true,” he admitted.

“You want to play for Ulster and it was just fantastic. Honestly, I was shocked to be involved in the Stade match and it was a very special occasion in Paris against a team full of internationals.

“I was just glad to be out there and I tried my best. I thought I didn’t do too badly.

“Actually it was a good feeling at the end of the match, even though we lost, but as a young Ulster team we played very well.”

Ulster fans got a possible glimpse into the future recently when Whitten donned the number 12 jersey, partnering Cave in the centre for the province’s 12-0 Magners League win over Glasgow Warriors.

Memorable as that night was, the former Wallace High School pupil is keen to look to the future and that means helping Ulster to a high finish in the table as the league enters its final stages.

To a man, Ulster were left frustrated by how they let Leinster break clear to claim a bonus point win at the RDS last Sunday.

It was an evening to forget for Whitten and company and a backlash against the Ospreys would the ideal way to bounce back.

“We were very disappointed with our performance (against Leinster) but to be involved again was fantastic. We had chances in the first half and didn’t take them,” he explained.

“In the second half we missed a few tackles and had a few turnovers and we beat ourselves in the end. We know we can play better than that and that starts with beating the Ospreys at home.”