New boy Hughes keen to taste first win for Ulster A squad
After tumbling to Leinster, Ulster 'A' need to get a win under their belts when they host Scarlets tonight in the second round of the Celtic Cup at Shaw's Bridge (kick-off 7.00pm).
While there has been some stinging criticism of the new competition aired at club level over in Wales, 19-year-old Iwan Hughes doesn't see it that way and is eager to help Ulster to a first taste of victory tonight when the Ulster Academy player starts at full-back after being on the wing against Leinster.
"I think it's brilliant," said Irish-qualified Hughes who arrived at the Kingspan from Bristol's academy over the summer.
"Especially so for academy boys as it is a great experience.
"It's a good competition for getting everyone these games and playing some rugby in a competition that is at a really high standard."
Interestingly, Hughes arrives at Ulster having already represented Wales at U16 level (his parents are both Welsh) and England at U18s (he was born and raised in Bristol) while a grandmother from Kerry means he is now in the Irish system, via the IQ programme for exiles, where he has played in green at U18 level.
As for tonight's game, Ulster meet a Scarlets side who also lost their initial outing - they were beaten 41-36 at the Ospreys - meaning both teams really need a positive outcome.
"We've been working really hard," said Hughes.
"We've got to put in a good performance and really come out and start as well as we can," added Hughes.
However, with five players from last week's starting side away with the senior squad in South Africa, three on the injured list and Rodney Ah You seemingly surplus to requirements, 'A' squad coach Kieran Campbell is putting out a much-altered team which includes eight from Ulster's academy.
Only prop Peter Cooper and hooker Peter Cromie remain from the pack which took the field against Leinster though the presence of the fit again Clive Ross should bring considerable experience and leadership to the pack which now includes fellow back-rowers Mattie Agnew and Joe Dunleavy as well as the physicality at lock of Matt Dalton.
In the backline, Michael Lowry comes into the side at out-half and the 20-year-old takes over the captaincy from the injured Chris Henry while Ireland Sevens player, and Ulster Academy member, Robert Balacoune is selected on the wing.
James Hume and Jack Owens are retained in a strong-running midfield while Bangor Grammar flyer Aaron Sexton gets another outing at wing.
Indeed, Ulster will want to deploy Sexton's pace but putting width on the ball could also be beneficial in what looks to be a pretty attack-minded back three which also includes the speedy Balacoune and Hughes.
Ulster lost 43-28 in the opening round of the new competition but managed to pick up a try bonus after a second half comeback which puts them four behind leaders Leinster.
Ulster 'A': I Hughes, R Balacoune, J Owens, J Hume, A Sexton, M Lowry (capt), G Curtis; P Cooper, P Cromie, P McGookin, M Dalton, B Luney, C Ross, M Agnew, J Dunleavy Subs: C Milligan, T O'Hagan, M Cromie, J Regan, M Rea, A Hall, M Strong, B Houston