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Hume is raring to go in new Celtic Cup for Ulster A


Rising star: Strong-running centre James Hume
Rising star: Strong-running centre James Hume

By Michael Sadlier

This season's new Celtic Cup competition gets its first run-out this weekend and for Ulster A it means hosting their Leinster counterparts at Gibson Park this evening (kick-off 5pm).

Created to fill the void left by the now-scrapped British and Irish Cup - which had involved English clubs - the new-look contest is comprised of what will ideally be development squads from the Irish provinces and the four Welsh regions.

The idea is to keep players ticking over at a tier located between club rugby and the fully professional game and to also give emerging talent another staging post towards making progress.

For centre James Hume, who turns 20 today, the competition is the ideal vehicle for the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy player to showcase his considerable talents.

Having made his senior bow in the pre-season friendly with Gloucester, the former RBAI pupil readily accepts that the Celtic Cup is just the place for the hard-running centre to continue his development.

"I'd kind of dreamt of the day (playing for the Ulster senior team) since I was younger, but I managed to take as much of it in as I could and I really enjoyed the experience," said Hume of being involved in last month's hit-out against Gloucester.

Having won three consecutive Schools' Cups at Inst under now Ulster skills coach Dan Soper, who also coached him at Banbridge, Hume at least has one familiar face taking an interest in him in the Ulster coaching set-up.

"All credit to him, he has kind of made me who I am today, he's been a mentor since I went into fifth year in school," Hume added.

Now focusing on a good Celtic Cup campaign in Kieran Campbell's A squad, Hume is ambitious to progress.

"I'll just play the best I can in these A games and maybe hope to get a shot (at the senior side again) later on in the season," he said.

The Ireland Under-20s player is understandably eager to get on, especially after being struck down by a foot injury that kept him out of most of last season.

"It was a long eight months and it is great to get back," he said.

Hume, who is also a useful goal-kicker, looked rather sharp in last week's friendly against Leinster.

"It was great to get 80 minutes under the belt and I'm really looking forward to the Celtic Cup," he added.

Ulster warmed up for this opener by beating tonight's opponents last week, also at Gibson Park.

Also part of tonight's side is Bangor Grammar winger Aaron Sexton, who has just turned 18 - a year older than when he made his debut against Gloucester last month - and scored a scorching try in last week's game against Leinster.

Skipper Chris Henry, Peter Nelson, Johnny McPhillips, Pete Browne, Schalk van der Merwe and Rodney Ah You all bring considerable experience to the team.

In terms of structure, a total of eight teams are involved in the Celtic Cup and are divided into Irish and Welsh conferences with six weekends of largely cross-conference action, throughout this month and into October, with the final to be contested between whoever finishes top of each national conference.

Ulster A: P Nelson; A Sexton, J Owens, J Hume, I Hughes; J McPhillips, J Stewart; S van der Merwe, P Cromie, R Ah You; P Browne, A Thompson; C Montgomery, C Henry (capt), G Jones. Subs: P McGookin, P Cooper, M Cromie, M Rea, Marcus Rea, G Curtis, B Houston, M Stronge.

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