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Pro14

The Low-down on Ulster’s New Signings

Quick look at the confirmed and (almost confirmed) signings for next season.

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Sam Carter and Gareth Milasinovich both have been confirmed as new arrivals at the Kingspan Stadium next season while it is believed Matt Faddes will be announced soon. Here’s a look at who they are.

Sam Carter

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Position: Second Row

Age:29

Club: Brumbies

Nationality: Australian

The low-down: An important signing as Ulster could definitely do with another leader in the pack – someone who brings experience and, equally as important, a bit of edge to the young squad.

Carter is a totemic figure for the Brumbies and a born leader, being named co-captain along with Christian Leali’ifano. Following in the footsteps of his famous father, David Carter, he has won 16 caps for the Wallabies.

He is what you might call an ‘old-school’ second-row. He carries aggressively over the ‘hard-yards’ and has had one of the top tackle-counts for each of the past number of seasons. He has a relentless work ethic and is extremely useful at the set-piece.

Carter’s playing style bears more resemblance to Johann Muller than Iain Henderson. He puts in the important, unglamorous work in the engine room, tirelessly hammering away at the breakdown coalface. He is Mr Consistency and hasn’t had many major injury problems over the past few years. All signs point to this being a brilliant signing for Ulster.

Matt Faddes

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Position: Utility Back

Age: 27

Club: Highlanders

Nationality: New Zealand

The low-down: Given the nature of modern rugby, it pays to have versatile players. Addison has been a revelation for Ulster since his arrival as a utility back. Let’s hope Faddes can replicate his success in an Ulster jersey (particularly as Ulster will be without Stockdale and Addison for the start of the season).

Like Addison, Faddes is a quick and agile back who has an eye for a gap in the opposition defence. He has played international Sevens rugby for New Zealand and has become a cult hero at Otago for his skilful and creative playing style. However, like so many cult heroes, Faddes’ career has been plagued by inconsistency – capable of great bits of skill but most definitely a ‘confidence player’, prone to go through the occasional patch of poor form.

Reassuringly, there are highlights packages of him on YouTube showing that he is capable of being a potent attacking threat. Granted, anyone can look good in a montage of their ‘best bits’ but, if nothing else, he looks like a player who will be fun to watch and bring a few moments of excitement to the Kingspan. This will be a case of ‘In Bryn We Trust’ and Ulster fans should be hopeful considering Cunningham’s ability to identify and recruit good quality backs ‘Moneyball’ style.

Gareth Milasinovich

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Position: Prop (both sides)

Age: 26

Club: Worcester

Nationality: South African (Irish Qualified)

The low-down: Props who claim to be able to play on both sides of the scrum should be treated with suspicion. Remember Tom Court? Sometimes it’s better to stick to what you’re good at.

Ulster have needed to bolster their front row options for some time now and their track record of recruitment in this area hasn’t exactly been great. At 6’3” and 21 stone, Milanisovic certainly looks the part (although so did Rodney Ah You and Van der Merwe).

Due to injury and competition, he hasn’t played a huge amount of rugby which has limited his development. By all accounts, he is both ‘big’ and ‘strong’ – words often used to describe props who have yet to develop technique. However, under the expert tutelage of McFarland – who specialises in getting the best from the ‘tight five’ – it’s possible that Milanisovic, who has all the requisite physical attributes, could be moulded into a force to be reckoned with.

In the few times I’ve seen him, he has been solid if unspectacular – not a bad thing for a prop who’s only 26 (props, as we all know, are born in their late 20s). He will add some depth and much needed competition to the front row department.

In other news, Ulster fans should join together and pray that the rumours about Jack McGrath’s move up North are true. If they are, it looks like Ulster will finally have the formidable front row club they have been lacking and it is hoped Milanisovic will play a key role in this.

Pro14

Leinster vs Glasgow; Pro 14 Final Preview & Key Battles

Leinster and Glasgow will face off at Celtic Park on Saturday night and here’s everything you need to know ahead of the final game of the season

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Johnny Sexton has made a return to the Leinster line-up for their Pro 14 final against Glasgow in Celtic Park on Saturday at 18 30. 

The captain has taken the No 10 jersey back from Ross Byrne who played who played last weekend’s semi-final against Munster in one of three changes to the side.

Another change in the back-line sees Rob Kearney come in for his brother Dave at full-back with Jordan Larmour switching to the wing. While in the second-row Scott Fardy replaces the injured Devin Toner.

Apart from that it’s as you were with Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong knuckling down in the front-row, with Fardy joining James Ryan in the engine room.

Rhys Ruddock is at blindside flanker, with Josh van der Flier retaining his spot at openside following a man of the match comeback performance last week, with Jack Conan continuing at No 8.

Luke McGrath partners Sexton in the half-backs, with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose linking up in the centre.

The ever-impressive James Lowe begins the game on the left-wing, with Larmour on the right and Kearney at 15.

Sean O’Brien has been kept out of the side meaning he won’t get to play another game for the province before his summer departure to London Irish. While Jack McGrath has been denied his chance at a final goodbye before moving to Ulster as Ed Byrne is chosen on the bench.

The visitors have strength among their replacements with Byrne being joined by the likes of twin brother Bryan, Ross Molony, Ross Bryne and Rory O’Loughlin.

Speaking ahead of the game prop Healy admitted he watched the Warriors 50-20 win over Ulster last weekend and has warned his side to be ready.

“I watched their game on Friday – they looked pretty dangerous,” he said.

While Leinster will be hoping for back-to-back titles Glasgow will want to dethrone them in front of the Scottish crowd.

For the Warriors it’s Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson are the front-three, with Scott Cummins and Jonny Gray pairing in the second-row.

In the back-row it’s Rob Harley at six, Callum Gibbins at seven and Matt Fagerson at eight to finish up the pack.

Ali Price and Adam Hastings continue their partnership in the half-backs at scrum-half and out-half respectively, while it’s Sam Johnson and Kyle Steyn in the centre.

DTH van der Merwe opens at 11, with Tommy Seymour at 14 and Stuart Hogg at 15 in what will be his final appearance for the club before his move to Exeter Chiefs.

There is plenty to call upon from the bench with the Ryan Wilson, George and Peter Horne and Huw Jones among those ready to make an impact if needed.

The element of home advantage is one that flanker Harley is hoping the fans will take advantage of when the time comes.

“Celtic Park is a great stadium. We’re really looking forward to packing it out with our fans,” he said.

Key Battles:

Fraser Brown vs Sean Cronin:

This will be an intriguing battle as both will have to be spot on with the line-out and give everything in the scrum. Experience will help both but there will be a harder task for Brown in open-play as he will need to keep an eye on his opposite number who has been a lethal try-scorer this season and would love to get another in the final.

Jonny Gray vs James Ryan:

Home advantage will mean nothing to Gray as he faces up to arguably the best lock in the world at the moment. Both put in sensational tackling figures to go along with their attacking metres they gain as well as the line-out battle, this could be the place where the game is won or lost.

Ali Price vs Luke McGrath:

These two will both be out to impress their national team coaches ahead of the World Cup later this year and a strong performance in the final could earn them a ticket to Japan. Price’s pace will be a worry for McGrath, while the Leinster man’s kicking game could cause problems for the Warriors.

Tommy Seymour vs James Lowe:

A Scottish legend coming up against one of the brightest sparks of this Leinster side. You wouldn’t bet against either getting a try and the way they defend one another could be the vital component of who wins this individual war.

Stuart Hogg vs Rob Kearney:

This is a man departing his club up against a man who could be leaving his beloved blues with both out to prove a point. Hogg is a danger in any match he plays, while Kearney will be hoping to put any fans or coaches doubts about him to bed with a solid performance which could be his last for the club.

Both teams finished top of their respective conferences and there is no doubt that the two best teams have reached the final showpiece. With only a day to go until kick-off there is still no separating the two sides as they seek the domestic crown once again.

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Pro14

Pro 14 Dream Team Announced

The Pro 14 Dream Team was announced last night, and 11 sides have been represented

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The Pro 14 Dream Team was confirmed last night and 11 of the competitions 14 teams have representatives but Benetton will be disappointed.

The much-anticipated team was narrowed down to 45 candidates, picked by more than 75 media that covered the season, on Wednesday with Benetton receiving seven nominations.

However, the Italian side have only been handed one spot on the team with wing Monty Ioane being included as Epalahame Faiva, Marco Riccioni, Federico Ruzza, Braam Steyn, Dewaldt Duvenage and Ratuva Tavuyara all being over-looked.

Three of the four Irish provinces claimed two places each along with Edinburgh as finalists Leinster and Glasgow received only a single place in the XV each.

The front-row was filled by Edinburgh’s Pierre Schoeman, Scarlets’ Ken Owens and Glawgow’s Zander Fagerson, with Munster’s Tadhg Beirne and Leinster’s Scott Fardy packing down in the engine room.

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony features at six, with Connacht’s Colby Fainga’a at seven and Edinburgh No 8 and player of the season Bill Mata finishing the pack.

Ulster’s John Cooney along with Fardy and Beirne are the only three players to make the team for the second year in succession, as Cooney takes his place at scrum-half.

Connacht out-half Jack Carty is at 10, with Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey and Cardiff’s Rey Lee-Lo outside him in the centre positions.

Rabz Maxwane of the Cheetahs was selected on the left-wing, having scored a record-equalling 14 tries this season alone, with Ioane on the right and Ospreys Dan Evens completing the XV at full-back.

It was revealed after that only a few of the positions were clear-cut choices with many being incredibly close as the likes of James Lowe, Bundee Aki and Marcel Coetzee being among the 30 players to miss out after stellar seasons.

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Pro14

Pro 14 Dream Team Nominations Announced

The end of the Pro 14 season is almost upon us and with it the seasons dream team is set to be announced with a surprise team leading the nominations

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(photo by Peter Fitzpatrick/Action Plus via Getty Images)

The Pro 14 dream team nominations have been confirmed and Benetton will have the most candidates for the final team to be announced on Thursday night. 

The Italians have been rewarded for a fantastic season which has seen them progress to the knock-out stages for the first time in their history, only for a late penalty against Munster to deny them a semi-final berth against Leinster.

Benetton have had seven players nominated in the 45-man list, which consists of three players across the league competing for each position.

Their nominations are Epalahame Faiva, Marco Riccioni, Federico Ruzza, Braam Steyn, Dewaldt Duvenge, Monty Ioane and Ratuva Tavuyara. The total of seven nominations gives them two more candidates than Glasgow Warriors and four more than Leinster, with the pair set to face off in the final at Celtic Park on Saturday.

For Glasgow Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Adam Hastings and Nick Grigg have been nominated in their respective positions while for Leinster Scott Fardy, Max Deegan and James Lowe will hope for selection in the XV.

Elsewhere, the other Irish provinces have all been handed five nominations. Ulster have been rewarded for a fantastic season, which saw them reach the semi-finals with Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marcel Coetzee, John Cooney and Staurt McCloskey among the 45 players.

Munster have also received five nominations as Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Mike Haley battle for a spot on the team.

While Connacht’s Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell were all recognised for their stellar individual season which saw the men in green claim a Champions Cup spot for next season.

The 45-man shortlist which contains players from 11 of the 14 teams in the competition is compiled by a panel of more than 75 media who have covered the season and all eyes will be on how well the Italian side get on.

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