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Kiss hands his young guns chance to fire before Ulster's big kick-off


By Jonathan Bradley

In recent years, Ulster have grown weary of seeing their season end at the hands of Leinster, but today a meeting with their decorated neighbours will instead represent a new beginning.

The 2016-17 campaign kicks off in earnest this afternoon as a young Ulster squad travel to the unfamiliar confines of Navan RFC in County Meath for their first pre-season fixture.

Visiting supporters will have to wait for their eagerly anticipated first glimpse of new boy Charles Piutau but fellow summer acquisitions Rodney Ah You, Brett Herron and Angus Lloyd will all see action.

Senior faces are thin on the ground - Louis Ludik, Alan O'Connor, Clive Ross, Jacob Stockdale, Kyle McCall and Andy Warwick are the only regular first-teamers on show - but 10 members of the Academy squad are included, as well as a handful who have impressed on the club scene.

Both sides will still fulfil their usual glamour warm-ups before the PRO12 curtain is raised - Ulster travel to Exeter and then host Northampton over the next fortnight while both Gloucester and Bath come to Dublin - and this fixture essentially represents an extra run-out for the up and comers and any regulars in need of game-time.

If all this produces the feel of a contest some way from the bright lights of the battles to come, many involved will be taking it as seriously as if it were occurring a month down the line.

There are PRO12 minutes to be earned for an eager panel that Kiss says will learn a lot from playing against a more seasoned Leinster outfit. The Blues will be captained by Jack Conan, on the fringes of Ireland's World Cup squad this time last year, and also benefit from the experience of Hayden Triggs, former Leicester Tiger Niall Morris and the four-time capped Michael Bent in their starting line-up.

"The boys have worked hard in pre-season and this is a good opportunity for some of them to show how they can perform in a match situation," said Kiss.

"The attitude of the players has been top notch and it will be exciting to see how everything comes together now.

"The squad has a youthful flavour to it and it will be very interesting to see how they perform against more experienced opposition. It's a challenge they are looking forward to. A lot of the players will be representing the senior Ulster team for the first time so it's an exciting prospect for them.

"Hopefully these games will leave us in a good place as we approach the start of the PRO12."

Ulster squad: K McCall, A Warwick, M Lagan, J Andrew, J Murphy, Z McCall, J Simpson, R Ah You, R Kane, C Smyth, A Thompson, J Donnan, A O'Connor, S Mulholland, C Ross, C Boomer, N Timoney, M Rea, D Shanahan, A Lloyd, A Cairns, A Magrath, J McPhillips, B Herron, S Windsor, M Best, R Butler, J Stockdale, D Busby, C Kelly, R Lyttle, L Ludik.

  • Leinster v Ulster Friendly: Navan, Today, 3.00 pm

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