Ulster coach Allen Clarke sure starlets can help prop up province
Forwards coach Allen Clarke has hailed the work of the Ulster Academy after two players fresh off the production line made a big impact in Friday's opening 29-8 PRO12 win over Dragons.
The province came into their first contest of the campaign without a host of internationals who had featured on Ireland's summer tour to South Africa and with their tight-head props massively depleted.
With Rodney Ah You, a summer singing from Connacht, having displayed delayed onset concussive symptoms following the final pre-season friendly, the 27-year-old Kiwi joined Ricky Lutton, Wiehahn Herbst and Johnny Simpson on the sidelines.
With Georgian international Anton Peikrishvili arriving as injury cover to ease the crisis, but not in time for Friday's game, Ross Kane was pressed into action for his senior debut with Andy Warwick, primarily a loose-head, providing cover from the bench.
Clarke, hooker when Ulster won the European Cup in 1999, was pleased with how the young props adjusted.
"I thought Ross and Andy Warwick did really well and all credit to them," he said.
"I'm extremely proud of their efforts. Ross being a young man on his debut and Wazza moving from loose-head to tight-head, neither are an easy ask. It's an eight-man scrum and we set our stall out to have no chinks in our armour. In that regard we did well. We looked as if we were pretty strong in that department."
While the forwards were an impressive unit come scrum-time, and indeed rounded off the scoring with a try off a maul, Academy back Rob Lyttle was another called up from the under-age set-up to stand out.
Having made a big impression throughout a pre-season in which he scored three tries, the 19-year-old came off the bench to bag a brace in the bonus-point win.
Jacob Stockdale, who has this season been upgraded from the Academy to the senior panel, was also on the scoresheet, with Clarke always confident the youngsters can fill the void left by more established absentees.
"It's well documented what's not available to us at the minute but we haven't really spoken about that," he said. "These boys that have come in have taken it on and all credit to them.
"We know there's aspects that we'll need to work on (with them) but we're pleased with what we saw."
With Ulster aiming for back-to-back wins to start the PRO12 for the first time since 2012, they travel to Treviso this weekend with Clarke expecting a physical battle.
The Italians have not beaten Ulster since their first ever meeting in 2011 but the province have endured scares at the Stadio Monigo before.
Former Canada coach Kieran Crowley made a losing start to his reign on Friday night against Leinster at the RDS but the underdogs frustrated their hosts in denying them a bonus point.
"They pushed Leinster or at least constrained them and that tells you about the challenge that lies ahead," said Clarke.
"Especially with the travel and going over early in the season when they're fully loaded. We had a battle against them last season, and had to come back really well, but it was no easy ask.
"We'll take stock, get the bumps and bruises sorted and build towards Saturday."