Belfast Telegraph

Five Ulster players in the running to make PRO14's Dream Team

 

Moving up: Eric O’Sullivan has had an outstanding season
Moving up: Eric O’Sullivan has had an outstanding season

By Michael Sadlier

Though the playing season is well and truly over, five Ulster players still have the chance of being mentioned in dispatches after making the Guinness PRO14 Dream Team shortlist.

Eric O'Sullivan, Marcell Coetzee, Rob Herring, Stuart McCloskey and John Cooney have all received nominations for the league's Dream Team, with the final line-up due to be revealed on a special programme running from 8pm to 9pm tonight on Premier Sports.

Three players from throughout the PRO14 have been nominated in each position and the shortlist has been selected by a panel of observers in the media, including former players and coaches.

Benetton Rugby have managed more nominations than any other club with seven in the running, while Glasgow Warriors, who swept Ulster aside in last week's semi-final and meet Leinster in Saturday's PRO14 final at Celtic Park, have six players in the mix.

Loosehead prop O'Sullivan has been a standout player for Ulster in what was his breakthrough season in the pro game.

The 23-year-old Dublin native had a huge season for his adopted province and became an established member of the starting side, though he will now have to deal with the arrival of Jack McGrath - who comes north hungry to get back into the Ireland set-up - for the next campaign.

O'Sullivan is up against Munster's Dave Kilcoyne and Pierre Schoeman from Edinburgh to make the Dream Team final cut.

Springbok Coetzee had his first largely injury-free season at Kingspan Stadium and showed his quality through his mighty ball-carrying and ability to win turnovers.

His form has been such that there have even been whispers of a possible World Cup call-up, rumours Coetzee has firmly denied as likely to pan out.

He faces stiff competition to make the Dream Team as Munster's CJ Stander and Edinburgh's Bill Mata are the others nominated at number eight.

Herring, who was Ulster's top try scorer in the PRO14 with eight touchdowns, will need to overcome the challenge of Scarlets favourite Ken Owens and Benetton's Epalahame Faiva to be named top hooker.

Hard-running inside centre McCloskey also had a strong season and was involved in 26 of Ulster's games - including all seven European clashes - throughout the campaign.

The 26-year-old topped Ulster's PRO14 stats for the most carries, off-loads, defenders beaten and metres gained.

McCloskey has Bundee Aki and Cardiff's Willis Halaholo to beat for his Dream Team category, while scrum-half Cooney faces Caolin Blade of Connacht and Benetton's Dewaldt Duvenage.

Meanwhile, Ulster have announced that full-back Peter Nelson has left the club following the end of the season.

The versatile back has also played at wing, centre and fly-half during his time at Kingspan Stadium, where he made 60 appearances in eight seasons.

Lock Ian Nagle has left Belfast as well following a brief loan spell at Ulster from interprovincial neighbours Leinster, in which he earned 11 caps.

Also departing the province are backs Jordan Owens and David Busby, who have endured injury-hit stays at the club.

Between them, the promising Academy graduates made seven appearances as both battled through long-term injuries that hampered their development.

In the backroom staff, scrum coach Aaron Dundon's departure has been confirmed after the appointment of Roddy Grant earlier this year, while support staff Kevin Geary and Chris Hagan have also left the club.

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