Angus Kernohan: Jared Payne has helped me develop as a player
When you consider that Angus Kernohan started last year without an Academy contract, it's fair to say that the talented winger has proved a lot of people wrong.
You only have to look at the fact that Ulster didn't release Kernohan for Ireland U-20s duty at the start of the Six Nations campaign to see the amount of progress he has made with the senior team.
He has since returned to the international fold and the recently turned 20-year old has not only brought a raft of experience from his time with Ulster, but having played with the U-20s last year, he knows what the setup is all about.
"It was obviously easier coming into a camp where the team has been doing so well," Kernohan maintained.
"It made it a lot easier. There's still challenges sometimes because you feel like you haven't been part of it. I've known a lot of these guys for a long time now.
"There's a real emphasis on bonding as a team, on and off the field. Thankfully they've all welcomed me in well/
"Having spoken to the coaches before I came into camp, they put an emphasis on leadership.
"Of course coming in, I'm trying to increase the communication within the team and trying to lead from the front.
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"Particularly in the back field there has to be a lot of talk and it's something I try to bring to the squad. In fairness, all the other guys are at that same level as well.
"When you're on the pitch, it's not about who is the most experience. It's just trying to bond together as a team. Hopefully I bring a certain amount of communication and maybe leadership to the other guys.
"Last year, when I went to France for the first time away, I was blown away by the support. Whereas this year, I took it a little bit more in my stride."
Jared Payne has been central to Kernohan's development as was Henry Speight before he returned to the Brumbies.
Having secured an Academy contract that many felt he was good enough to have earned earlier, the pressure was lifted and since then, Kernohan has thrived.
"Having the pre-season with the seniors really helped me develop," he maintained.
"Probably meant because it meant I was training a lot more, had more time on the field and more exposure to the coaches.
"Obviously this year, having been given an Academy contract, it has allowed me to focus more on my rugby. Definitely I've seen myself with a lot more growth this year.
"Thanks to Jared Payne, I've been able to positionally develop as a player. In terms of reading the play and being able to adapt to how the opposition are playing.
"Also, I've just got more confidence now to back my ability. More confidence to take players on and hopefully express myself as well."
Kernohan's plans to study medicine have been shelved for now, but he does tend to enrol in college next year.
"Both my parents studied medicine, so for me that was always something I was interested in," he explained.
"I had an offer for a couple of Unis to study medicine. I had that decision to make, but for me since I was boy, rugby has always been my dream.
"I'm glad now that I took the road to try and play rugby. Hopefully just keep my head down and stay on that road as long as possible."
Kernohan may have started the campaign playing with Ulster but he always harboured a great desire to get himself back into the Ireland U-20s setup.
"You pretty much get a phone call telling you, you're either in Dublin or you're either in Belfast," he added.
"There's a hunger to play for both obviously. You want to play for your province and get professional experience, but playing for your country that's a real privilege.
"I'm glad the way it has worked out this year, having that opportunity to play both. Hopefully I'll get another opportunity in the next week or two to pull on the jersey again and do my country proud hopefully.
"The exposure that the U-20s can give you and when you're playing with guys at the same age, it can give you confidence when you're coming to play with them.
"That's something I want to keep developing is that ability to express myself and to back myself."