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Pro14

Ulster count cost of bonus point win over Southern Kings

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There were mixed emotions for Head Coach Dan McFarland as Ulster secured five points against the Southern Kings on Saturday night at the Kingspan Stadium.

The win puts Ulster into second place behind Leinster in Conference B, however the loss of Louis Ludik, Marty Moore and Darren Cave adds to the growing list of injury woes ahead of Saturday’s huge European Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Leinster.

Saturday’s fresh injuries leave Ulster depleted in midfield, with Luke Marshall still not fully fit following an ACL injury and James Hume ruled out after breaking his ankle in training last week.

“I have got to wait and see but you saw the same as me and it did not look good,” said McFarland of fullback Louis Ludik’s injury after he was helped off the pitch by the medical team just nine minutes into the game.

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“It’s still too early to tell but we will have to assess the injuries and see how Louis is and how Darren is. Obviously James (Hume) is out. We’ll have a look at Lukey and see how he’s going on.”

McFarland joked he may have to call upon former Ireland centre and Ulster’s defence coach, Jared Payne, to fill the gap in midfield.

“Jared Payne’s wondering whether he should play, but we’re saying definitely not – you’ve had your chance,” laughed McFarland.

On a more positive note, McFarland praised Ulster number eight, Marcell Coetzee on his return to action from a hamstring injury sustained in the last European outing against the Leicester Tigers.

“It was good to have him back and he went well tonight. Marcell’s been a strong performer for us this year and it was disappointing for him and us that he hasn’t been able to play this last while but it was great to see him back out there and at his bullish self.”

Despite some superb individual performances, McFarland reflected on his sides rustiness and tendency to turn the ball over or cough it up at crucial moments. Indeed, although the win was somewhat spluttering, Ulster ran in 5 tries tuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle, Robert Baloucoune, Marcell Coetzee and John Andrew.

The front row did well – Herring was dynamic in his ball carrying and was solid at the set-piece. Andy Warwick put in a serious shift, tackling well can carrying over the hard yards. It was reassuring too, to see Herbst come on at loose-head and create issues for the King’s scrum.

Rob Lyttle looked dangerous in attack, squeezing his way through the King’s defence on a number of occasions – enough to earn him the man of the match award. Michael Lowry and Bobby Baloucoune are improving with every game they play and hardly put a foot wrong. Stuart McCloskey will have divided opinion – his size and power were a definite asset to Ulster however, his once frustrating habit of forcing offloads has now seemingly turned into an inability to pass. He took his try remarkably well however, and remains an important focal point of Ulster’s attack, often drawing in several defenders.

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Saturday’s win completes an impressive run in the PRO14 for Ulster, taking 21 points from a possible 25. Ulster now have three games remaining in the PRO14 with away games against Glasgow and Edinburgh, and a home fixture with Leinster.

“In the forefront of our minds is that we have to go to Glasgow and Edinburgh with their Scottish internationals back and we have the best team in Europe in the last game of the season, so we’re under no illusions to the size of the task ahead of us,” said McFarland.

“But we’ve put ourselves into the position that we said we wanted to be in.”

Of course, Ulster’s focus will now change swiftly to Saturday’s Champion’s Cup quarter-final clash with Leinster at the Aviva stadium against defending champions Leinster. Although it is hoped Ulster’s fourth consecutive PRO14 win will give Ulster significant momentum ahead of this weekend, McFarland notes that, while Leinster rested a number of key players in their game against Edinburgh this weekend, that was a luxury Ulster could not afford.

“I think it is a question of the context,” he said. “Leinster are top, so in the context of the conference itself it does not matter even if it obviously matters to them that they lost in Edinburgh and they’ll be disappointed in that. They were able to rest a lot of their players.”

“We are in a different position, we are in a ridiculously difficult conference where there is a fight going on and we needed to make sure that we got the maximum points. We do not have as big a squad, guys step up and they play.”

Despite some excellent performances this season, particularly in the Champions Cup competition, McFarland is confident Ulster have a lot more to offer. Indeed, Ulster will now focus their preparation on producing a memorable performance on Saturday against Leinster, who are considered by many to be strong favourites.

“We have put in some good performances in Europe already, but recently we have not strung together a really good 80 minutes yet. In order to win next week we will. There is literally no doubt about that.”

“We will have to be at our best,” added McFarland.

Indeed, Ulster will require an exceptional performance to challenge this great Leinster side.  It is worth bearing in mind Leinster have injury problems of their own – Robbie Henshaw, Devin Toner and Josh van der Flier are all expected absent and several players will still be reeling from Ireland’s six nations capitulation.

For Ulster, finding a centre partner for Stuart McCloskey will be crucial as will proving the fitness of Marty Moore ahead of Saturday – the pack’s cornerstone. Given the sizeable Leinster contingent in this squad, Ulster’s ‘blue streak’ will have a point to prove in Dublin this Saturday.

In the words of Sportscaster Al Michaels, ‘Do you believe in miracles? YES!’

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Pro14

Leinster Duo to Miss Start of Season

Leinster have confirmed that two players will miss the start of the upcoming season in what is a big blow for the province

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Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has confirmed that both Ciaran Frawley and Barry Daly have suffered injuries in pre-season and will miss the start of the season.

Young fly-half Frawley impressed last season when given his chances, and with Johnny Sexton at the World Cup it was an opportunity for him and Ross Byrne to share the No 10 jersey. 

However, Cullen has confirmed that Frawley has suffered an ankle ligament injury during their win over the Northampton Saints last week and has undergone a procedure to fix the problem. The bad news is that he will be out of action for six to eight weeks. 

Along with Frawley, back Daly has picked up a knee ligament and cartilage injury during a training session. 

Like his teammate he has undergone a procedure to mend the issue, however, he is expected to be unavailable for selection for up to five months. 

With a number of key men on international duty with Ireland at the Rugby World Cup in Japan for the next two months the squad is already stretched and these will come as massive set-backs for Cullen and co. 

Leinster begin their PRO14 campaign on Sunday the 28th of September away to last season’s surprise package Benetton and they will hope to get off to a winning start as they attempt to claim their third league title on the bounce. 

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Pro14

Glasgow Warriors Sign Highlanders Prop

Glasgow Warriors have confirmed the arrival of an experienced Super Rugby loosehead

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Glasgow Warriors have announced the signing of Highlanders prop on a two-year contract ahead of the 2019/20 season.

The loosehead’s move is subject to visa and a medical with the club, which he is expected to pass, and he is excited to make the move to Scotstoun.

“I’m really looking forward to moving to Glasgow. It’s going to be a new challenge for me and I’m excited about the opportunity to play in Europe. The coaching team’s reputation speaks for itself – Dave is highly regarded and I can’t wait to work with him. I also know Siua from our time at the Highlanders, so I’m sure he’ll help me settle in. Glasgow Warriors have a very strong squad and made it to the Guinness PRO14 final last season, so I know I’ll have to get my head down and work hard to compete for my place in the team,” he said while speaking to glasgowwarriors.org.

Seiuli will bring a huge amount of experience to the Glasgow set-up having notched up 38 appearances for the Highlanders and featuring in the side that defeated the 2017 British & Irish Lions.

His shear power and size is something that head coach Dave Rennie is looking forward to having in his side and believes he will fit in well.

“Aki is a hell of an athlete. We identified him as someone with that point of difference around his ball carrying and physicality. He’s a good man and someone who we believe will fit in really well into our environment. He knows he’ll need to come over and work hard because we’re going to have a lot of competition in that loosehead spot this season,” he said.

The 26-year-old will be helped to settle in by former teammate Siua Halanukonuka whom he spent time with previously. If he does settle in quickly it will be a massive prospect for the Warriors fans ahead of the new season as they look to go one step further and win the PRO14 title as well as competing in the Champions Cup.

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Pro14

Owens retains Scarlets captaincy for new season

2019/2020 Season.

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With Owens set to play an integral part in WalesWorld Cup campaign outside centre Steffan Hughes and former Springboks prop Werner Kruger have been named as vice captains along with Wales squad members James Davies and his brother Jonathan.

The six consecutive seasons at the helm is a record for the Scarlets in the regional era and brings Owens alongside the great Phil Bennett, the Scarlets president, who captained Llanelli RFC between 1973 and 1979. “Ken is an outstanding leader,” said new Scarlets head coach Brad Mooar.

“I heard the other night Alun Wyn Jones refer to him as the heart of any team he is in, such high praise from a legend of the game and something that has been really clear to me from the time I have been involved in this Scarets journey. Ken’s heart beats Scarlets.

“I first met Ken about a year ago. He is held in such high regard, is such a genuine Scarlets person and an outstanding rugby player. Without exception, everybody I have spoken to – players, management, staff, the board – everyone speaks highly of Ken and his leadership abilities.

“He has played for and captained the British and Irish Lions, has been part of the leadership group for Wales. It is an absolute no-brainer that he is the right man to lead this team, club and its people.

“It is a World Cup year so we have got four vice-captains who are superb leaders in their own right, players who lead in different ways and contribute greatly to the group. That allows us to have a leadership group that is seamless throughout the year.

“With Cubby, Werner, Steff and Fox it is an awesome group to help Ken lead us. We had a launch here at Parc y Scarlets and their involvement and engagement has been outstanding.

“It is not just about the boys who are physically here now; Ken, Fox and Cubby’s connection and involvement with me, with the group and with the players, player to player, you can see that is there, as it has been with all the guys who have been involved with Wales.

“They are Scarlets at heart, they live and breathe it, and there is a huge amount of IP that will lead us throughout the season.”

Owens, who won his 67th cap for his country against Ireland last weekend, said: “It is a huge honour to be again named captain of my home region and, as I said when I was first appointed captain, a privilege to follow in the footsteps of some legends of the game who have led the Scarlets in the past.

“It is an exciting season ahead for the Scarlets and we have a strong leadership group to take us forward.”

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