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Drop-outs force Ireland coach Craig Fulton to test untried formula

Irish coach Craig Fulton is playing down the fact so many of his established players are unavailable for what is his first tournament since taking over the reins less than a fortnight ago.

Fulton has a youthful squad out in Malaysia at the moment for the world ranking Champions Challenge series which starts on Saturday, but the South African is confident his training squad will be virtually back to full strength during the summer when the two-year cycle begins towards qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Examinations, club commitments, work commitments and unavailability took a big toll on many of his established players, but bearing in mind the nine-day acclimatisation in Kuantan followed by the eight-day tournament is a lot of time away from work or university for amateurs, it's not surprising that the coach has had to turn to young and available members of his squad.

If nothing else, he believes it will give him an insight into who has the potential to make it at this level of competition.

They don't come much harder than Ireland's opening game on Saturday – against world No.6 New Zealand, who are already well progressed in their build-up towards the summer's World Cup finals.

But Fulton wants his players to make an impact against the other two teams in their pool – Poland, who are ranked three beneath the Irish, on Sunday and in particular Japan, who are ranked just one above and who the Green Machine could overtake on the world ladder if they finish above them in Malaysia.

Top seeds in the other pool are Korea, ranked No.7 in the world, with the others Malaysia (13), Canada (16) and France (17), and no doubt Fulton would be happy to face the Canadians or the French in the crossover quarter-finals.

Altogether there are a dozen Ulstermen in his squad, with Reading's John Jackson again wearing the captain's armband and Banbridge's Eugene Magee all set to add to his record-breaking caps tally.

But for Annadale's Michael Robson, Bann's Matthew Bell, Drew Carlisle, Philip Brown and Stephen Dowds, it's their first major tournament and a chance to show what they can do.

The remaining Ulster contingent are regulars Bruce McCandless (Banbridge), Jonathan Bell (Lisnagarvey), Chris Cargo (Reading), Paul Gleghorne (Instonians) and Peter Brown (UCD).

The inclusion of Maurice Elliott may have raised a few eyebrows, as he is the first player over 30 years of age set to make his Irish debut, but Fulton knows that he needs workhorses as well as goalscorers, and the Pembroke player ticks both boxes.

Training in Kuantan has been going well but it's expected that the afternoon temperatures of 32 degrees, coupled with 86% humidity, will take its toll on players late in the game, and so squad rotation throughout games will be vital.

SCHEDULE: Saturday: Ireland v New Zealand (8am BST); Sunday: Ireland v Poland (10am); Tuesday: Ireland v Japan (10am). Thursday: Quarter-finals: Saturday May 3 and Sunday May 4: Classifications games

* THE Anderson Cup Super Nines gets under way this week with the 10 Premier League teams joined by the top six from Senior One and split into four pools which will be played at different venues.

The competition, sponsored by McCausland, Light and Rankin, begins tomorrow evening at Shaw's Bridge with the remaining pools at Mossley on Friday evening and at Cookstown and Queen's on Saturday afternoon, with the finals earmarked for Banbridge the following weekend.

Pool A (tomorrow, Shaw's Bridge): Instonians v Annadale (6.30pm); Instonians v Belfast Harlequins (7.10pm); Belfast Harlequins v Civil Service (7.50pm); Annadale v Civil Service (8.30pm); Annadale v Belfast Harlequins (9.10pm); Instonians v Civil Service (9.50pm)

Pool B (Friday, Mossley): Mossley v Lisnagarvey (6.30pm); Mossley v Bangor (7.10pm); Bangor v North Down (7.50pm); North Down v Lisnagarvey (8.30pm); Lisnagarvey v Bangor (9.10pm); Mossley v North Down (9.50pm)

Pool C (Saturday, Cookstown): Cookstown v Raphoe (12pm); Cookstown v South Antrim (12.40pm); South Antrim v Portadown (1.20pm); Portadown v Raphoe (2pm); Raphoe v South Antrim (2.40pm); Cookstown v Portadown (3.20pm)

Pool D (Saturday, Queen's): Queen's v Banbridge (12pm); Queen's v Newry (12.40pm); Newry v Kilkeel (1.20pm); Kilkeel v Banbridge (2pm); Newry v Banbridge (2.40pm); Queen's v Kilkeel (3.20pm)

Belfast Telegraph