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Why Ulster Rugby was such a perfect fit, explains new boy Matt Faddes

Kitted out: (from left) Craig Gilroy, Matt Faddes and Sam Carter show off the new Ulster shirt,
which features a wave pattern made up of the nine counties of the province
Kitted out: (from left) Craig Gilroy, Matt Faddes and Sam Carter show off the new Ulster shirt, which features a wave pattern made up of the nine counties of the province
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

It would need to be a brave man who spends a wet weekend in Belfast and leaves thinking the city would be a perfect future home, but Ulster's latest Kiwi import Matt Faddes is evidently made of stern stuff.

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The 27-year-old former Highlanders man has been enjoying the rare sunshine over the last few days, a stark contrast to his first Belfast visit with the Barbarians in 2016.

The rain was torrential that night against Fiji, but Faddes, a try-scorer in the 40-7 win for the invitational side, was intrigued by the province nonetheless.

"It's time for a fresh start, a new challenge," he said yesterday at the launch for the side's new kit, the home design featuring a wave pattern made up of the nine counties of Ulster.

"I've been in Super Rugby for four years and now want to keep developing as a player, to keep learning as a player on the field and off. I was just keen to learn.

"When we had the opportunity to come here for a few days in 2016, we just really enjoyed the feel of it. It's a similar feel to home, a community-based side.

"It was a good fit. For the game, there was sideways rain but the crowd was still out in force, so it obviously doesn't scare the supporters anyway. That's pretty cool.

"We to-ed and fro-ed a bit and then we came to an agreement around Christmas time last year and we decided to make the move. It's pretty exciting."

While a trip to Dublin to take in the national side's recent win over Italy and some sun-chasing in Portugal have provided distractions, in the main Faddes has spent the time since arriving getting his head around the style and nomenclature of a new team.

Joining Ulster as a versatile back with plenty of Super Rugby experience, there are obvious comparisons with the province's current defence coach Jared Payne, and his compatriot has been invaluable during the process of acclimatisation.

"I grew up watching Jared really even though he only finished a few years ago," said Faddes, who has signed a two-year deal.

"We're friends of friends. He's a mate of Dan Pryor, who I played a lot with for the Highlanders.

"He's been huge for me, with us playing similar sort of positions and similar sort of roles. It's been huge to pick his brain and get the insight into how things work over here and the set-up. It's been crucial really."

Like Payne, who eventually settled in the 13 jersey after starting out at full-back, it appears a midfield berth is the preference, but an ability to play in the back-three will surely be useful during the long season.

"Going through high school, I played a bit of 10, wing, 13," he explained. "You pick up those different skills and cues and whenever I came onto the Otago scene, I was all over the show as well. It's something you get used to.

"I prefer the midfield but I really enjoy wing and full-back as well. Any game I can be involved in is preferable for me."

Ultimately it was how, not where, he'll be playing that was most important.

"What attracted me to Ulster, it's a side that likes to use the ball," he added. "Coming from the southern hemisphere, or at least playing with a roof on your home stadium in Dunedin, it's a brand we're used to playing. It's nice to come in and do similar stuff."

As he's already all too aware from his previous visit, there's no roof here unfortunately.

"Yeah, why is that?" he pondered. "It'd be useful."

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