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Pro14

Ulster count cost of bonus point win over Southern Kings

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

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!’

MATCH HIGHLIGHTS:

** EXCLUSIVE DAVID LLOYD OFFER FOR ULSTER RUGBY FANS **

Premiership

Ulster to play Saracens in Pre-Season doubleheader.

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Photo By John Dickson/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Ulster Rugby will get the 2021/22 season underway with home and away pre-season friendlies against Saracens in September. 

The Ulster men will face the five-time Premiership and three-times Champions Cup winners at Kingspan Stadium on Friday 3 September (kick-off 7pm).

The squad will then make the journey to central London for the away clash on Thursday 9 September (kick-off 5pm) at the Honorary Artillery Company. 

This will be the first time the two sides have faced each other since the pool stages of the 2015/2016 Heineken Champions Cup.

Both matches against Sarries, who return to the Gallagher Premiership this season, will act as preparation for Ulster ahead of the newly launched United Rugby Championship, and the challenges they will face in this year’s Heineken Champions Cup.

Admission to the home pre-season friendly on 3 September is included in 2021/22 Season Tickets, as well as access to all home regular season fixtures in the United Rugby Championship and Heineken Champions Cup.

Existing Season Ticket holders have until 5pm this Friday (30 July) to renew their packages, and can do so online at ulsterrugby.com/seasontickets.

New purchasers can ensure they are notified first about new Season Tickets as they become available by registering their interest here.

The availability of match tickets sold individually will be dependent upon available capacity, in-line with government regulations. Further details will be released in due course.

Source – Ulster Rugby

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Pro14

Sharks sign former Wallaby & Munster 2nd Row.

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The Cell C Sharks are delighted to welcome three new players to the Shark tank as we continue to build our squad ahead of the United Rugby Championship (URC), commencing in September.

Due to the longevity of the URC Tournament, in is important to bolster squad depth and have the talent to be a success in this grueling northern hemisphere competition, while balancing player welfare.

To this end, the Cell C Sharks will be welcoming both local and international flavour to Durban and are proud to announce the signings of centre Ben Tapuai, utility back Eduan Keyter and lock Gerbrandt Grobler.

Tapuai is a former Reds Super Rugby star who spent six years in Brisbane where he accumulated 64 appearances, before adding a further 12 with the Western Force. During that time, he made seven test appearances for the Wallabies between 2011 and 2012.

He has spent the last five years playing in the UK and will bring huge amounts of intellectual capital given his experiences of northern hemisphere rugby for Bath and Harlequins where he is approaching a combined 100 appearances for the English teams.

So highly rated was he as a youngster that he he was selected for the 2007 Australian Schoolboys team ahead of James O’Connor. No stranger to success, he played in the 2011 Super Rugby final won by the Reds and more recently in Harlequins’ Premiership final victory last month.

25-year-old Eduan Keyter recently impressed against the Cell C Sharks in the opening round of their Carling Currie Cup clash and is currently the top try-scorer in the competition with six touchdowns.

He made his senior debut against the Cell C Sharks two years ago in Griquas’ 37-13 victory over the Cell C Sharks and in the most recent match, won by the Cell C Sharks (30-16) in Kimberley, Keyter scored one of his team’s two tries.

The third signing, Gerbrandt Grobler, currently hails from Stade Francais. He is a local talent who started his junior career with the Bulls but moved to Western Province as a senior, representing the province at Currie Cup level and the Stormers in Super Rugby between 2012 and 2014 before making the move north.

He has played high profile rugby in both the UK and France, moving from Cape Town in South Africa to Racing 92 for two years before moving to Ireland where he turned out for Munster, then to England where he enjoyed two seasons with Gloucester, playing under former Sharks lock and Lions coach Johan Ackermann before returning to the Top 14 with Stade Francais last year.

We welcome the three new signings to a Cell C Sharks side committed to playing an awesome exciting and winning brand of rugby, with the aim of becoming an internationally acclaimed team that tastes success and wins silverware on a regular basis.

Source Cell C Sharks

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Pro14

Edinburgh Rugby appoint new Head Coach

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(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Edinburgh Rugby have appointed Scotland Assistant Coach Mike Blair as the club’s new Head Coach.

The former Edinburgh and Scotland captain made over 150 appearances for the club (2001-2012) and returns from a five-year term with the national team, where he was recruited by Head Coach Gregor Townsend to occupy a dual role with Glasgow Warriors in 2017.

He joined Glasgow as Assistant Coach in 2016 and operated in that capacity for club and country until 2019 – helping the club reach the PRO14 semi-final and Grand Final (2018 and 2019) and two Champions Cup quarter-finals (2017 and 2019) – before focussing fully on national team matters for the past two years.

Blair’s contribution was recognised recently with his appointment as Interim Scotland Head Coach, only for the matches to be abandoned as coronavirus affected the camp and that of their opponents.

The recent departure of Richard Cockerill then presented a timely opportunity for Blair to take on the reins of the club he represented over a decade, having been born and bred in the capital city and schooled at Edinburgh Academy.

Mike Blair, said: “The first emotion is one of pride. I’ve lived in Edinburgh most of my life, played 11 seasons at the club and still live in the city, so having that attachment combine with the opportunity to lead the squad is really special for me.

“I’ve learned a lot from working with quality coaches like Dave Rennie, Jason O’Halloran and Gregor Townsend, in particular and over the years, and have been able to develop and adapt a philosophy that I feel should benefit the talent we have at the club.

“It’s a really exciting squad. There’s a good balance of experience and backgrounds and I’m looking forward to getting to know the players and their strengths better so we can mould that into making Edinburgh both good to watch and successful.

“It’s also a really good time to come in with all the excitement around the launch of the new stadium this summer. It’s a massive, watershed moment for the club. We all want to get that packed out with supporters from the outset and build an atmosphere the players deserve and the fans can be proud of.”

Edinburgh Rugby Managing Director, Douglas Struth, added: “We’re delighted to welcome Mike back to the club as our Head Coach, having watched his development into a first-rate coach over the past six years.

“Not only does he bring that expertise, but Mike is also a local man, a club centurion, and somebody who became a home-grown legend in an Edinburgh Rugby jersey.

“That’s really important to us and is a fantastic illustration of our ambition to promote and develop local stars of the future.

“It’s a new era for the club, with a new stadium and new tournament formats, and we believe Mike is the right man to continue the development of our tactical approach and winning mentality on the field, and our culture and connection to the wider rugby community off it.”

Prior to coaching, Blair was a player of worldwide repute.

He earned 85 caps for his country and toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2009 – the same year Edinburgh Rugby finished as runners-up in the then Magners League – and played a major role in the club’s storied run to the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2012.

He also played professional club rugby in England for Newcastle Falcons and in France with Brive, all experiences which contribute significantly to his depth of knowledge and understanding of the sport.

Scottish Rugby Chief Executive, Mark Dodson, said: “We’re really pleased to see Mike take this next step on his coaching journey with Edinburgh Rugby, recognising the excellent contribution he’s made at both Glasgow and Scotland over the past six years.

“He’s an exceptional Scottish coach who is hungry to deliver success for a club he cares a great deal about.

“He’s done a fantastic job of developing players in all of his roles, many of whom have shone on the biggest stage for Scotland and, more recently, the British & Irish Lions.

“We’re looking forward to watching him and the club develop further, together, as the beginning of this new era for Edinburgh Rugby, targeting a regular return to the knockout rounds of domestic and European Cup competitions and competing for silverware in the seasons ahead.

“His existing knowledge of the player group and lasting affinity with the club’s fanbase make this an excellent and exciting appointment.”

Source – Scotland Rugby

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