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Ulster coach is ready to give youth a chance again next season


Could Stewart Moore be the next young player to break into Ulster's senior team?
Could Stewart Moore be the next young player to break into Ulster's senior team?
Key figure: A fully-fit Marcell Coetzee would be a massive boost for Ulster’s hopes next season
Sam Carter
Matt Faddes
Jack McGrath
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Coming on the very eve of pre-season beginning in earnest, the final loose ends of summer business are never intended to be headline-grabbing moves.

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Just when the eye-popping wheeling and dealing of top-level football reaches its dizzying peak, rugby coaches have long since been informed of what they'll have, or lack, for the coming campaign.

Ulster's most recent ins and outs - reserve out-half Johnny McPhillips departed for Leicester Tigers on Friday, while David O'Connor, brother of long-serving lock Alan, had a development deal confirmed - seemingly pale in magnitude when compared to announcements regarding the likes of Jack McGrath, Sam Carter and Matt Faddes.

However, as Ulster coach Dan McFarland proved last season, there is little sign of hierarchy when it comes to his squad.

When the northern province announced their squad for last season, it was not the then unheralded names of Eric O'Sullivan, Robert Baloucoune, Michael Lowry and James Hume that sparked conversation.

While it remains to be seen if the likes of Stewart Moore, David McCann, Azur Allison or perhaps even the schoolboy sprinting star Aaron Sexton can make the same substantial impact next year, McFarland certainly seemed ready to keep giving youth its chance in his second season when speaking yesterday.

"Having a large number of indigenous young players in the squad is incredibly important for the future," he said.

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"Kieran Campbell and his staff in the Academy deserve a lot of credit for their work in bringing through the next generation of talent to the senior squad, which was so evident last season.

"Our clubs and schools also play a huge part in the development pathway of our young players, providing the basis for crucial early technical and motivational growth.

"It is important that we retain the best of our home-grown talent, many of whom receive attractive offers from other clubs, and we have managed to do that once again with some key re-signings."

Marcell Coetzee has re-signed, the South African powerhouse who put two injury-ravaged seasons behind him to show his true quality and this week earn a Springbok recall just three months out from the World Cup in Japan.

The tournament in Japan is set to rob Ulster of some thin-on-the-ground experience, with Coetzee seemingly set to join the likes of Iain Henderson, Jacob Stockdale and Jordi Murphy in the Far East for the first months of the year.

With Coetzee having set the recent standard, McFarland is aware he'll need plenty from their newest non-Irish-qualified recruits, Kiwi utility back Faddes and former Wallaby lock Carter.

"Combined with this core group of Ulstermen is the vital input of our overseas players," added the coach.

"Having players like Marcell Coetzee in the group has delivered tangible benefits both on and off the field, and I'm confident that Sam Carter and Matt Faddes will also have big impacts.

"We will also welcome the experience and quality of Jack McGrath, and the potential of Gareth Milasinovich, Bill Johnston and David O'Connor.

"I'm looking forward to working with them all.

"The squad is developing nicely. We need to have quality throughout; sometimes that's down to recruitment, a lot of the time it's down to bringing young guys through. Getting a healthy mixture of the two is important."

It was those twin tracks that Ulster rode to relative success last time. Next season's squad seems built in a fashion to try and do likewise in 2019-20.

Belfast Telegraph


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