Uruguay are going to provide real test for our rising stars, says Kieran Campbell
The friendly with Uruguay tomorrow evening may have crept in somewhat under the radar, but Ulster are treating the fixture against next autumn's World Cup qualifiers as an important staging post in the development of rising talent.
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Ulster Academy manager Kieran Campbell is in charge of the squad and has thrown down a challenge to the roster of up and coming young players to show their worth against international opposition.
In fact, Campbell also has a fairly strong hand when it comes to selection, the senior squad having no game until November 23, meaning that there will be a decent mix of youth and experience in tomorrow's team.
The emphasis is very much on producing a winning performance as well when coming up against Los Teros, who lost 45-21 at Cardiff Blues on Tuesday.
"We'll have a pretty strong team, one we definitely expect to compete and (hopefully) the result will take care of itself," said Campbell, who also coaches the Ulster A team.
"For us, as a province, it's great to have a national team here that's going to the World Cup.
"It's a game with gravitas, they are going to the World Cup and they are in a very strong pool as well (with the Wallabies, Wales, Georgia and Fiji)."
And looking firmly to the younger players expected to get a chance against the South Americans, Campbell said: "We want the young lads to perform. They're not getting an opportunity for the sake of it. If you perform, Dan (McFarland) is more than willing to give you opportunities."
The evidence is clearly there, with five of the current Academy crop getting game-time this season as Mike Lowry, Eric O'Sullivan, James Hume, Robert Baloucoune and Angus Kernohan have all featured.
Unfortunately, Baloucoune will not play tomorrow as he is undergoing return to play protocols following last weekend's game at Benetton, and neither will schoolboy speedster Aaron Sexton, who has starred for Ulster A in the Celtic Cup, as the Bangor Grammar pupil is believed to have been stood down after shipping a similar knock.
Lowry is also a doubt due to the quad injury he picked up against the Dragons, but prop Tom O'Toole is expected to play while both Mattie Rea and Rodney Ah You will have served out their suspensions for red cards.
"It's not going out and taking it as (just another) game on Friday," stated Campbell. "The boys need to perform, both the seniors and Academy, to get opportunities on the senior team.
"So this is a serious game and some guys have to realise that this is their opportunity to impress Dan and be in his thinking.
"The other thing for us, and it is massive, is that we've been blooding guys early this year as everyone has seen.
"When we get a fixture like this, it's (a case of) blooding guys to make sure they are ready to step up as others have done and be successful."
The former Ulster and Ireland scrum-half is under no illusions that Uruguay will offer quite a challenge for his squad.
"Uruguay are a big and physical side who play with tempo," said Campbell. "And we're another part of their preparation for the World Cup."