Deysel and Coetzee will help Ulster's punch: O’Connor
Ulster lock Alan O'Connor believes Jean Deysel and Marcell Coetzee can be just the boost the side's pack requires for the challenge of the new Guinness PRO14 campaign.
A squad with a long-held reputation for containing more talent throughout their backline, the Dublin-born second-row is of the opinion that the province's forwards are more than capable of providing the necessary grunt throughout a season that begins with Friday night's visit from the Cheetahs.
That confidence is, in no small part, due to the presence of former Sharks duo Coetzee and Deysel.
Coetzee made just four appearances during his first season at Ulster thanks to injury, while Deysel spent the second half of the last campaign at Munster.
"I think we're in a pretty good place," said O'Connor. "Jean and Marcell, they're both good ball carriers so hopefully they will make it easier for us in the tight five to get front foot ball once they get over the gain-line.
"Once they are playing to the best of their ability they can free up the rest of the pack, so I'm looking forward to playing with those boys.
"In the second row, I think the mix is very good. Kieran Treadwell is class and just got an Ireland cap in the summer and Hendy (Iain Henderson) had a class year too. Pete (Browne) is a great player as well, so the competition between everyone there will bring out the best in us."
While the Cheetahs tend to play with more abandon than a stereotypical South African unit, O'Connor still anticipates a hearty forward battle this weekend and is looking forward to a physical encounter.
"You know the South Africans are going to be big fellows, they like to maul and have a good set-piece so hopefully we can negate what they are trying to do to us and take it to them," he said.
"All the pack will be looking to take it to them instead of waiting to see what they have for us.
"They are a compact unit, they are good at the mauls and set-piece so we have to take it to them."
New head coach Jono Gibbes - a former All Black who has spells with Leinster and Clermont on his CV - arrived this summer with a reputation as a no-nonsense operator capable of getting the best out of a forward unit.
Alongside Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon, Gibbes was brought in after long-serving coaches Neil Doak and Allen Clarke left the province at the end of last season.
O'Connor, whose initial move north was encouraged by Clarke after the pair worked together at Ireland Under-20s level, has enjoyed the early returns from the new ticket.
"Clarkie and Jono, they are both different people with different approaches and different coaching styles," he said. "I'm really enjoying having Jono here. All the boys are thriving off the energy the new coaches are bringing and what they have to offer. It's going really well."
Even if, O'Connor admits, it may not seem so from the outside.
Ulster have lost both their pre-season friendlies, suffering a reverse at home to Wasps before enduring a nine-try demolition at the hands of Northampton Saints last Friday night.
While those results, especially in terms of the side's defensive solidity, would be a concern to any onlooker, O'Connor believes the side will fare far better against the Cheetahs as they continue to adapt to the new structures being put in place.
"It's been really good in training and it's really exciting times," he added. "Everything they (the new coaches) are bringing in is like a new energy, it's not necessarily new stuff but a new approach to how we look at things.
"Results haven't gone our way but a good few young boys got a chance and it is hard to gel when you're bringing on so many players. We're just focused on this Friday."