Five talking points as Ulster lose out to Gloucester in pre-season fixture
Ulster fell 29-17 to Gloucester in their first pre-season contest of the new campaign but a youtful panel did manage to bag three tries before their more experienced Premiership outfit closed things out in the final quarter.
Rugby correspondent Jonathan Bradley casts his eye over the game's talking points.
1. Debutants impress for Ulster
When Ulster announced their team for the contest earlier this week, the headline news was surely the serious representation from the underage structures with eight Academy players, one sub-Academy man, and, in the case of winger Aaron Sexton, one schoolboy in the panel. While there were understandably going to be hiccups, most frequently in the first-half when the side looked to build an attacking platform, the cadre of debutants largely all ended up on the positive side of the ledger. Mike Lowry, Stewart Moore and Angus Kernohan contributed in the first forty minutes, while Marcus Rea bagged his side's first score. After the turn, when subs flooded on, James Hume marked his introduction with a try of his own, the pass for the touchdown coming from Sexton.
2. Up-and-coming players keep progressing
The first sightings of so many men pulling on the senior jersey for the first time was always likely to catch the eye but there were encouraging performances from those youngsters who have already had their first taste of PRO14 action. While there weren't an abundance of scrums during his time on the pitch, prop Tom O'Toole, who would have figured for the Ireland under-20s this summer if not for injury, continues to look like he could grow into a real menace around the park. Given his eye-catching displays last year, it was no surprise either to see Nick Timoney come to the fore in the first-half, including another fine line for a try.
3. Class is permanent
For all the interest in Ulster's young guns, the most prominent player in the early going was one of the side's most experienced figures. In his testimonial game, Chris Henry was a stand-out for the hosts. The former Irish international flanker didn't play as much rugby as he would have liked under former head coach Jono Gibbes and with Jordi Murphy arriving from Leinster competition in the back-row will only be heightened. After a tough pre-season, Henry looks ready for the battle.
4. Injury woe strikes again
With results secondary, a coach's worst nightmare at this time of year is naturally injuries. Billy Burns had looked bright during his first minutes in an Ulster jersey, playing flat, lifting the tempo and directing Ulster's backs, with his personal highlight the work in the build-up to his new side's third try. The sight of him hobbling off with what looked like a groin injury was the last thing Ulster wanted to see. To make matters worse, re-introduced youngster Mike Lowry then went off having taken a trailing boot to the head. Ulster ended the game with Pete Nelson, who had started at full-back, returning to the action to see the game at ten.
5. Onwards to Wasps
Ulster will take on Wasps in the Ricoh Arena on Friday in their final hit-out before the PRO14 curtain-raiser against Scarlets. Ulster's newly reconfigured coaching team will be looking to bring a smaller panel to Coventry and give some more senior figures their first action of pre-season. Johnny McPhillips and Stuart McCloskey are both set to figure, while Dwayne Peel sounded hopeful that South African Marcell Coetzee may get his first outing since knee surgery ended his season after one game last time around. Having blown off the cobwebs against Gloucester, Ulster will be looking to display decidedly less rust in the second game, presumably with a squad more familiar with each other's games.
Belfast Telegraph Digital