Ian Humphreys has returned for a second stint with Ulster this summer and is determined to make the most of what he calls a ‘special place’.
Ian Humphreys got a first taste of the newly refurbished Kingspan Stadium last Friday evening during Ulster’s pre-season friendly against Exeter Chiefs, a game which finished 21-22 to the visitors.
And after two years plying his trade at London Irish, he admits that the opportunity to once again pull on the white jersey of his home province was too good to turn down.
Reflecting on his time in the English capital, Humphreys told UlsterRugby.com: “I really enjoyed my time there, I learnt a lot of things both on and off the pitch, rugby-wise, lifestyle-wise and family-wise so it was good fun, but when the opportunity to come back arose I was never going to turn it down.”
His move back to Belfast a few months ago coincided with brother David’s move across the channel in the opposite direction – leaving his post as Ulster’s director of rugby to take up a similar position at Gloucester.
Asked for his take on the situation, ‘Humph’ junior smiled and said: “Listen, it’s professional sport. He got an opportunity to move on and I’m back here regardless of whether he was going to be here or not.
“He’s got to do what he thinks is right for his family and I’m doing what’s best for mine. I’m sure he’ll do really well there and I’m sure we’ll do really well here as well.
“He didn’t have much to do with the negotiations to bring me back – to keep things simple it was taken out of his hands. I’m back here because I want to be here and I want to part of Ulster Rugby.”
Humphreys has returned to join a squad that is much-changed from the one which he left behind two years ago, but he believes the strength in depth has been building steadily during that period.
“Throughout the squad there is huge competition for places. You look at the second row – there’s Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe – the back row is really strong, the front row as well.
“The strength in the centres in particular – I think we have three or four current internationals there – is really impressive.
“All that it can be is good for the team…everybody is pushing each other on and you know if you have a bad game someone is waiting ready to take your place. A team like Leinster has superb squad depth and it’s something we have had to aspire to to try to emulate their success.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s pre-season game against Leinster at Tallaght Stadium, Humphreys added: “It will be a tough game but it will be a good marker for us to see where we’re at after pre-season.
“It’s always a good game to play against them because they are one of the best teams in Europe and it gives us the opportunity to set the standard.”
Humphreys, now the second oldest member of the Ulster squad at 32, is keen to enjoy every minute of the season ahead. His positivity in training and matches will no doubt ensure others do likewise.