Mixed fortunes for the new boys hoping to impress
Ulster's recruitment this summer may have been understated but there was still plenty of new faces on show during the 24-21 defeat to Leinster at the Kingspan Stadium last night.
Those in new or unfamiliar surroundings entered the contest knowing that, with Ireland World Cup call-ups set to deplete the squad of valuable resources during September and October, there is considerable PRO12 playing time to be earned but in a scrappy contest, it was hardly a case of hands up from the Ulstermen.
As is so often the case at this time of year, the game proved to be a disjointed and fragmented affair, lacking in any real momentum due to unfamiliar combinations, a myriad of substitutions and a couple of lengthy stoppages for injuries.
The starting XV sent out by head coach Neil Doak featured only two players who weren't regulars last term in Peter Browne and Jack Owens.
Browne, signed from London Welsh following a season of toil in the Aviva Premiership, began the game alongside Franco van der Merwe in the engine room and the 27-year-old offered a solid showing on debut.
Featuring when the game displayed a good deal more cohesion, the Bristol-born second-row was quick to clear out rucks when required while also displaying a more refined side of his game with a fine one-handed grab of a Rob Herring offload.
Matters were sadly less routine for Owens after the Ireland Under-20 international was carted from the field with what appeared to be a knee injury.
Having started at full-back, he was one of the few players to re-emerge after the half-time break but lasted only 15 minutes before the knock.
Speaking after the game, Doak confirmed that Owens' leg was in a brace and he would be sent for a scan.
The second half, when Ulster shipped three tries to surrender their 14-5 interval lead, saw a more sizeable number of fringe players and newcomers enter the fray, including a pair of recent recruits at half-back.
Paul Rowley and Sam Windsor began the second-half in the nine and 10 jerseys respectively, although Leinster's early dominance of possession left both with little chance.
Rowley, who like Browne turned out for London Welsh last season, had a short introduction to Ulster rugby and, after coming off the bench for the impressive Paul Marshall, was himself replaced by David Shanahan after a quiet 25 minute cameo.
Windsor, given the entire half, was handed enough time to show more of his skill-set after Ulster finished the game in the ascendancy.
The Australian out-half came into the game as it went on and was able to show a few hints of his talent when Ulster pressed late.
The returning Willie Faloon found himself pressed into action but Ulster's struggles at the breakdown continued.
Of the youngsters blooded in the second-half, Sam Arnold provided Ulster with their only try in that period, and the Surrey-born centre gave an impressive showing, while Stephen Mulholland's yellow card will not have impressed Doak
A more settled panel is expected to travel to Edinburgh next Friday with the coaches surely hoping for more from their substitutes.