Ulster's Dave Shanahan hoping to grab opportunity in Southern Kings showdown
DAVE Shanahan, who has enjoyed considerably more pitch-time this season than in previous campaigns, is determined to make the most of another opportunity should it arise tomorrow night as Ulster aim to make it five PRO14 wins on the bounce against Southern Kings at Kingspan Stadium.
The scrum-half had been third in the pecking order behind John Cooney, and Ruan Pienaar before that, along with Paul Marshall until the latter retired in the summer.
However, Shanahan has worn the number nine jersey more often this season due to injuries to Cooney and his fellow Dubliner's elevation to the Ireland squad for the autumn internationals and the Six Nations.
While he has learned from his peers along the way, he says there is no substitute for playing.
"Obviously Coons and Ruan, they are great players and you pick things up off them - but the way you learn is by playing," said the 25-year-old.
"That's helped me the most this year, getting a lot of game time, getting on the field and being able to make mistakes, learn from mistakes and knowing what works for me, and getting a bit more of an identity as a player around this team.
"I was looking at it the other day, it was either last year or the year before I had eight appearances, but in eight appearances I'd only played 60 minutes, so you're talking eight minutes a game.
"When you're doing that, you're afraid to make mistakes because you're like 'I have eight minutes, I'd better not screw up', whereas (this year) you're actually getting a good bit of game-time, you're trying to help the team win rather than worrying about yourself.
"Obviously I have to be aware of my own personal performance, but I'm feeling a lot more part of the team and I'm really enjoying it now."
Shanahan insists the Kings cannot be underestimated, despite a 28-7 Ulster win in the corresponding game in South Africa.
"They are second last in the table, but they're a seriously good team, a seriously dangerous team," he warned.
"Some of the performances they've put in this year, even when we played them earlier in the season, they made it really tough for us for the majority of the game.
"We managed to get a couple of tries late on to pull away from them; everyone talks about the speed they have out wide and stuff, which is obvious to see, but their maul is really really good.
"They did a number on us in the maul last time we were out there, so we have to defend well and make sure they don't get into the 22 and make that a thing for them."
Realistically though, Ulster will be going in search of a bonus point win to further boost their hopes of a play-off place with a difficult run-in to come.
"We're looking at every game as if we're going to win it. It's pretty tight from second to fifth, there's only eight points in it, and obviously between us and Treviso there's only one point," Shanahan added.
"We have a tough run-in - after Kings, except for the European game against Leinster, we have Edinburgh, Glasgow and then Leinster again to finish, so it's going to be a tough challenge but we're looking forward to it."