Following on from the announcement earlier today that Cian Healy has extended his IRFU contract until 2021, Leo Cullen has confirmed a further 20 player contracts have been agreed including already the already confirmed Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw.
“It’s a credit to the work that goes on in the schools and in the clubs that we are in a position to confirm 21 new contracts, with all but three coming through the system here. Over the last 20 months or so we have been able to hand debuts to nine academy players and they have deserved those opportunities. And now seven players that started this season in the academy will start next season as senior players,” said Cullen.
He went on to congratulate the younger players that have come through the ranks as well as welcoming back academy graduate Cian Kelleher from Connacht.
“I’m delighted for them and indeed their families and congratulate them on their promotion. We have been very happy with what we have seen from them all in the Guinness PRO14 and in some cases in the Heineken Champions Cup and we hope that they get many more chances in a Leinster jersey in the coming years. It’s also exciting to welcome Cian Kelleher back to Leinster. We have always kept a close eye on his progress at Connacht and it’s great that we can now welcome him back to Leinster and we wish him well in what is already a very competitive position in the team,” he added.
Kelleher returns to Leinster having joined Connacht in 2016, where he scored 14 tries in 54 appearances and is delighted to be back in blue where he will be reunited with younger brother Ronan.
“I’m incredibly excited to get back to my home province this summer and get started in an unbelievable set up in Leinster. It was an opportunity too good to refuse when it came up and I can’t wait to get started and compete in an extremely competitive environment. I hope to add to the incredible success the province has had in the last couple of seasons,” Kelleher said.
All the star names from the past few seasons remain contracted to the club along with youngsters such as Ciaran Frawley, Conor O’Brien, Scott Penny and Hugh O’Sullivan.
However, the most noticeable name missing from the list is that of Ireland international full-back Kearney who is yet to agree renewal terms on his centrally funded IRFU contract. There has been plenty of speculation regarding his future especially since Sean O’Brien, who leaves for London Irish this summer, posted an apparent parting message for Kearney on his Instagram.
For now, all focus will be on Leinster’s Pro 14 final against Glasgow on Saturday but after then there is no doubt that attention will swing back to Kearney’s situation once more.
Ulster to welcome 1,000 fans for Scarlets clash
Ulster Rugby last night announced that 1,000 supporters will be welcomed to the Kingspan Stadium this weekend. Statement from Ulster Rugby below:
The Ulster Men have played behind closed doors since the opening game of the season against Benetton Rugby when the club successfully trialled the safe return of spectators following extensive consultation with the IRFU, Belfast City Council and the Northern Ireland Executive.
All 500 pairs of tickets will be made available to #TogetherUlster Members only via an online ballot process. Members who applied for tickets to the Benetton match but missed out due to limited availability will receive priority in the ballot.
Sunday night’s match will feature a mix of seating and terracing in operation across all four stands and the East Terrace. Tickets are again priced at £20 each, allocated in groups of two with two-metre physical distancing factored in.
The online ballot will be open for 24 hours from 1pm on Tuesday 17 November on the Ulster Rugby Ticket Account Manager, and account holders can apply for one pair of tickets per every Adult #TogetherUlster Membership held. All successful applicants will be notified on Wednesday evening once the ballot has closed and tickets have been allocated. Members will then have until 1pm on Thursday 19 November to confirm their ticket purchase and process payment.
Bad news on the injury front for Munster back-rower
Munster medical department have issued the latest player update with Liam Coombes, John Hodnett and Alex McHenry all ruled out due to respective injuries.
The young trio sustained knocks in different training sessions and will not be available for this weekend’s clash.
Alex McHenry underwent surgery for a thumb injury and will not be available for the coming weeks, while Liam Coombes has sustained a minor hamstring injury.
Unfortunately, it is a longer-term outlook for John Hodnett who sustained an achilles tendon injury. The Academy back row will undergo surgery early next week before commencing his rehabilitation programme.
A fourth player is already self-isolating after returning a positive test result from Monday’s PCR testing. The player remains well, and no other players have been identified as close contacts.
Rea to win 50th cap v Cardiff
The 27-year-old Ballymena man made his Ulster debut against the Toyota Cheetahs in September 2017, and has already shown some excellent form this year when collecting the Player of the Match award in the season opener versus Benetton.
Rea will start at blindside flanker, with Jordi Murphy being retained at openside and Nick Timoney coming in to start at number eight. Adam McBurney will make his first start this season at hooker and is joined in the front row by Eric O’Sullivan – who scored his first Ulster try last week – and Marty Moore. Alan O’Connor retains his starting berth in the second row, and will be partnered with Kieran Treadwell, who is also making his first start this season.
Burns is one of four changes to the back line, with Stuart McCloskey also being released from international duties to start alongside Stewart Moore in midfield. Michael Lowry comes in to start at full-back, and he will be joined on the wings by Louis Ludik and the returning Craig Gilroy.
Luke Marshall is set to make his return from injury to make his first appearance this season as he is included among the replacements. Alby Mathewson and Academy back three prospect Ethan McIlroy will cover the backline along with Marshall. John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Ross Kane, Sam Carter, and Sean Reidy provide the forward options on the bench.
Issued by Ulster Rugby