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Willie backs future stars to flourish at Kingspan

 

By Jonathan Bradley

After not too long, any analysis of Ulster's decline in recent seasons will come around to the notion that a large part of the problem has been the province's inability to produce forwards with the necessary edge.

Needing a few dogs of war with plenty of bite, they do have one such figure arriving at Kingspan Stadium on a daily basis, the only problem being that he'll turn 63-years old next week.

What Ulster would give for a player like Willie Anderson today, but instead he is two years into a role tutoring the next generation.

Anderson's vintage was a pack that didn't take a backwards step but, thankfully for the province's fans, he sees plenty he likes from the latest crop of hopefuls.

"From where I came from, that culture, it wasn't professional but we were in everything but name," he said.

"I was very aware that what we had at that stage is what I wanted to create with Kieran (Campbell) in the Academy.

"We're still working on it, it's ongoing, but it's important that it goes from the bottom up.

"We want it to drip down too, but we have to cocoon ourselves a bit. The players we want coming into the Academy, we call them warriors, people who are going to perform for the shirt.

"Whether it's an Academy, schools, club, development, that shirt is sacred.

"That's the most important thing. We have to get that back again, where the jersey is the most important thing."

Against Scotland in the Six Nations just past, half of the Ireland Under-20s starting pack was from the Ulster Academy, with Anderson convinced those same players will make an impact for the senior side soon.

"I think there's guys who I've no doubt will come through. Tommy O'Hagan, Adam McBurney, Tom O'Toole, Joe Dunleavy will come through, Matt Dalton, Greg Jones, Aaron Hall, Jonny Stewart have all played already. Maybe they'll get a run before the end of the year, but I can definitely see them getting games next year.

"That's the wave that's coming through and, to be quite honest, coming quicker than expected. I think if we can have even those young guys, and say to the public, these cubs are coming through, stay with us, support us, these guys will die for Ulster.

"There's something about them. To use as an example, Matty Agnew wants it. He has that desire.

"He's a three A*, four A* pupil academically but he says to his parents that he wants to play rugby.

"His mother and father told him that if he wanted it, to go do it. So he gets on his bike, cycles to the train, jogs to training, does the session, and does the same in reverse back to Bangor.

"For me that says something about a person with desire. You don't have any worry about someone like that. You know they're going to deliver. Now, what we have to do is put in the detail and what they need to learn but, in terms of that dog, those warriors that we're looking for, there's a lot of guys like that who are going to come through and that want to play for Ulster."

Ulster may be inactive this week, but the province's next generation that so excite Anderson will be in action.

The A side take on BedfordBlues in the last eight of the British and Irish Cup on Saturday and Anderson thinks a win would certainly help morale.

"I think it's important for Ulster Rugby moving forward," he added. "We've a lot of young fellas and to be fair to them they've bought into the culture of the A team that me and Kieran are trying to bring.

"They know the importance of this game but we have to go out with the confidence and spirit that we've had all season."

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