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Comment: Jordi Murphy will help Ulster pack more of a punch

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster have continued attempts to rebuild their pack for next season with the news that Jordi Murphy will join the Kingspan Stadium outfit in time for the 2018-19 campaign.

The capture represents another coup for Operations Manager Bryn Cunningham, who has already attracted Murphy's former RDS colleague Marty Moore to Belfast, after the province had found themselves thwarted in past attempts to coax any of Leinster's glut of international forwards to come north.

Murphy, who was born in Barcelona but is a product of Blackrock College, had been thought primed to ink fresh terms with his native province and follow in the footsteps of Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock, who in the past had drawn admiring glances from Kingspan but stayed put.

However, the news that he will instead bolster a pack short of international quality will be a welcome boost to Les Kiss and Jono Gibbes, who will know Murphy well from their days with Ireland and Leinster respectively.

With Murphy the fifth forward brought to Ulster with Test experience in the past three years - not including the aborted move for Arno Botha - the coaches will, however, be hoping for better luck on the injury front.

Rodney Ah You, Jean Deysel and Marcell Coetzee have all had parts or all of their Ulster careers marred by injury, the latter pair's woes seriously diluting the province's back-row options this season.

Murphy himself is only recently returned from a significant knee injury picked up in Ireland's 2016 win over New Zealand in Chicago but has turned out nine times for Leo Cullen's men this season, as well as once for Ireland and the Barbarians.

With Sean O'Brien, Conan, Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy and the currently injured Jamie Heaslip all competing for back-row berths though, and the highly promising Max Deegan next off the production line, game time is hard to come by in Dublin.

Murphy found himself on the bench for the derby with Munster and the European clash with Montpellier, while he was left out of the 23 for the Champions Cup win over Glasgow.

This harsh reality, as well as originally being omitted from Ireland's November plans before being called in to face Fiji, will no doubt have focused the player's mind in recent weeks, with the first indication he would consider a switch coming only during November.

Ulster have blooded a number of Academy products in the pack so far this season, with Aaron Hall, Matt Dalton and Greg Jones part of a group of youngsters who are highly thought of and being moulded by Academy forwards coach and former Ireland captain Willie Anderson.

However, question marks still remain around the pack heading into 2018-19.

Both Iain Henderson and Rory Best are expected to still be here next season, though neither have contracts beyond June.

High-priced import Coetzee has played just five times for the province thanks to a luckless run of injuries that have required three knee surgeries, and it remains to be seen what he will provide moving forward.

In the short-term, Ulster are preparing for Sunday's Champions Cup trip to Harlequins (1pm kick-off) which is the first leg of a back-to-back itinerary that sees the London outfit pitching up in Belfast on December 15.

The province's European campaign is delicately poised after beating Wasps but taking nothing from the trip to La Rochelle.

Belfast Telegraph

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