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Allen will fight for opportunity at Ulster

By Niall Crozier

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe is offering the youngsters in the squad he inherited a chance to make a name for themselves.

Youngsters like 21-year-old centre/wing Michael Allen, who is delighted to have been invited to strutt his stuff.

Yesterday Anscombe said: “I want these guys to show me what they can do when Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace and Nevin Spence aren’t available. There’s a long season ahead so I want to know what options we have and what my best centre partnerships are.”

Allen (pictured) — a two-times Northern Bank Schools’ Cup winner with Methodist College — is hoping to add a third senior provincial cap to his collection on Saturday afternoon when Ulster host the Leicester Tigers.

The former Ireland under-19s’ centre and Phoenix Academy graduate, who has advanced to senior level via the Ravens, was one of the heroes of Parc des Jean Dauger where, in baking heat, Ulster beat Bayonne last Thursday evening. Allen is proud to have been part of that success.

“Absolutely delighted,” he said.

“What a place to go and win. We’d never won in France so that was a real breakthrough.

“During the pre-season we talked about goals and one of the things we said we wanted to achieve was to win in France so it means a huge amount to us to have done that.

“For myself coming into the squad it has given me a massive sense of achievement to have been part of that. Every one of the Bayonne players was an international or has been around the scene for a long time so for us to go there and do the job that we did on them was massive.

“We showed real character, especially in that heat. We walked out into the stadium for the warm-up and at first, in the shade, I thought it was fine. The somebody said, ‘Take a run into the sun for 10 metres’. The sweat was dripping off me.”

Allen knows he will face even bigger challenges and he is under no illusions. He knows the strength in depth Ulster now boast in midfield and on the wings — Cave, Wallace, Spence, Jared Payne, Luke Marshall, Chris Farrell, Tommy Bowe, Simon Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Chris Cochrane are all in the mix, so competition for places is going to be fierce.

“I know I’m coming in as an underdog. I’m a young guy and this is my first year on the scene, coming into the squad, but I’m ready to fight for it,” he vowed.

“I want to play for Ulster in whatever position Mark wants me to play. Every pre-season game is an opportunity and that’s the mood I’m approaching it in.”

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Banbridge depart today for a 10-day tour of South Africa’s Western Cape.

Thirty players — who include Ulster Rugby’s media officer Richard Finlay — and eight club officials are making the trip which features three matches plus attendance at the Springboks v Argentina clash at Newlands, the South Americans’ first-ever fixture in the southern hemisphere’s new Four Nations’ series.

The tourists arrive in Cape Town on Thursday, with the players training the following morning in readiness for their first match against False Bay on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Banbidge will face a Pniel/Kylemore Combined XV, with the last of the tourists’ three matches being against Kraaifontein on Thursday.

In between times there are visits to Table Mountain, vineyards and tastings and the delights of Aquila Private Game Reserve in search of the ‘big five’ — elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino.

Saturday, August 25 will be the tourists’ last full day in South Africa before leaving for home the following day.

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