Craig Gilroy, whose magnificent three-try display helped the Irish XV trounce Fiji 53-0 at Thomond Park on Saturday night, has signed a contract committing himself to Ulster until 2016.
Although just 21, Gilroy has made 52 appearances for his native province.
It was current coach Mark Anscombe’s predecessor, Brian McLaughlin, who was brave enough to unleash 19-year-old Gilroy on the professional stage in November 2010. Gilroy justified McLaughlin’s faith in him by scoring two debut tries against Cardiff Blues.
Ulster wasted little time in offering him a full-time contract when his strike-rate — eight tries in 14 appearances — underlined their belief that they had unearthed a very special talent. He has been Ulster’s leading try-scorer for each of the past two seasons.
This year has been a remarkable one for Gilroy. In January he was invited to train with Ireland squad ahead of the Six Nations Championship. In May, he was voted Vodafone Young Ulster Player of 2011-12, the second leg of a notable double being the Irish Rugby Players’ Association’s Try of the Year Award for his remarkable solo effort in Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Munster at Thomond Park.
Gilroy said: “I’m delighted that I will be playing my rugby at Ravenhill well into 2016. I am proud to play for my Province; representing Ulster means a great deal to me.
“Things are going really well at the moment. We have had a good start to both the RaboDirect PRO12 and the Heineken Cup and it is great to be a part of.
“I am looking forward to helping Ulster be successful over the course of the rest of this season and the next three seasons.”
Ulster’s Director of Rugby, David Humphreys, said: “Craig is a product of the Ulster Academy and he fits with our ambition of creating a team of home-grown players capable of competing with the best in Europe.
“There is no doubt that he is an exceptional rugby player and his future both at provincial and international level is extremely bright.”
Meanwhile, Ulster have added another Academy youngster, back row forward Conor Joyce, to an otherwise unchanged panel for tomorrow night’s PRO12 match in Treviso.
Joyce has made only one previous appearance – against Leinster at the RDS last Boxing Day.
Having been released by Ireland last week, Tom Court and Declan Fitzpatrick, joined the Ulster group ahead of Sunday’s Zebre game and, having remained in Italy are in contention for places.
If, as expected, scrum-half Paul Marshall and wing Andrew Trimble are deemed surplus to Irish requirements for Saturday’s Guinness Series Test against Argentina, they will be making their way to Treviso, too, but probably as replacements.
Admitting that his side had been fortunate to emerge from Parma with a 27-25 win, coach Anscombe said of tomorrow night’s challenge: “The key to us is getting the players up, rectifying the things that need to be done, making sure that we’ve got some energy and backing ourselves and believing in ourselves on Friday.
“We all know it was a sub-standard performance and we’ve got to be above that.”