Sean Reffell hails influence of ex-Ulster head coach McCall on his early career

Ulster Rugby's Sean Refell
Pacemaker Press 09/01/24 Ulster’s Sean Reffell speaks to the media ahead of Ulster’s Champions Cup Round 3 fixture against Toulouse on Saturday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Investec Champions Cup Pool Two: Ulster v Toulouse (Saturday, 8pm, TNT Sports 3)

Flanker Sean Reffell has praised the influence of Mark McCall on his career before he arrived at Ulster.

The loose forward will start his third consecutive game for Ulster on Saturday night in the vital Investec Champions Cup clash with Pool Two leaders Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium.

The 25-year-old Irish qualified back row came through the Saracens academy and won the club’s young player of the year in 2021.

McCall, who captained the Ulster European Cup winning squad in 1999 and led the province to the league championship in 2006, the last trophy they have won, handed Reffell his Premiership and Champions Cup debuts.

When Ulster came knocking, however, and with the competition for places at the London club the flanker decided to move across the Irish Sea.

“Mark was massive, and all the coaches there were really good, always giving feedback and sort of making you think about the game a bit differently,” said Reffell.

“Always picking up on small things that you usually wouldn’t think about.”

“Saracens was a lot about work rate and pushing yourself which is have sort of taken away with me as well.”

“I can’t give them enough credit for when I was coming up.”

Reffell explained how the move to Ulster came about.

“I spoke to Dan (McFarland) and I liked the plan he had for the club and the style of play he wanted to play and it was sort of up my street.”

“Also, the fact just where I was at Sarries in my position I thought there would be more opportunity to play here.”

“It is a great club and watching from a far that season it was really good rugby that they were playing, that was attractive to me so that is why I joined.”

Saracens head coach Mark McCall
Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall prior to the Gallagher Premiership match at Kingston Park, Newcastle upon Tyne. Picture date: Sunday November 12, 2023. (Richard Sellers/PA)

Having joined the Kingspan club Reffell has been plagued by injury and has only managed five appearances since arriving in Belfast during the summer of 2022.

“Being at a new club, you want to make a good impression in your first season especially, and for that to get taken away by injury is pretty tough to deal with but I have been working closely with the coaches and the physios and always checking in sort of made it a lot easier.”

“I’m obviously back fit now so that is all in the past, it sort of builds your character and I just want to get stuck in as much as possible now.”

Just as he was on the verge of coming back injury struck again.

“I got injured last January, it was a cartlidge problem in my ankle and the scans were a bit iffy so really didn’t see it to later on, so there were a few times when I tried to return to play and couldn’t quite make it through.”

“I got surgery in August, the cartlidge got sorted out and I’m back fit now it was pretty long about 11 months.”

Reffell is delighted to back and looking forward to tackling the five-time European Champions at a sold out Kingspan Stadium.

“I’m definitely taking nothing for granted when it has been taken a way from you for a while even if you are tired before a training session you appreciate that feeling even if you are pretty sore you are still able to train and I’m just happy to be back.”

“Every time I have played here which hasn’t been too many appearances so far it has always been a huge atmosphere, obviously now that it is a sellout, I’m really excited to hear the buzz and obviously it will lift up the boys so I’m excited for it.”