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Pro14

Ulster name team to face Southern Kings

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ulster squad has been named for Saturday’s crucial Guinness PRO14 tie against Isuzu Southern Kings (Kingspan Stadium, 5.30pm).

Dan McFarland’s men are unbeaten in their last six matches in all competitions and they will hope to continue that recent good form as they battle for a play-off spot in Conference B.

There are five personnel changes to the team that managed a bonus point win away to Dragons earlier this month. Four of the new faces are up front, with loosehead prop Andy Warwick, lock Ian Nagle and back rows Matty Rea and Marcell Coetzee introduced to the starting pack.

Coetzee will make a welcome return from injury, having not featured since January’s decisive Heineken Champions Cup defeat of Leicester at Welford Road.

Rob Herring and Marty Moore will join Warwick in the front row, while captain Alan O’Connor partners Nagle in the second row. Nick Timoney, so impressive at Rodney Parade in his last outing, is named as the other loose forward.

The only alteration to the backline is at scrumhalf, with Dave Shanahan coming in to partner Billy Burns at half back. Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave continue in midfield, and pacy wingers Rob Lyttle and Rob Baloucoune are again selected in the back three alongside Louis Ludik.

John Andrew, Wiehahn Herbst and Tom O’Toole will provide front row cover on the bench, while Kieran Treadwell and Clive Ross are the other forward options. John Cooney, Michael Lowry and Angus Kernohan, who helped Ireland U20s to a Six Nations Grand Slam success last weekend, are the backline replacements.

Ulster team to play Isuzu Southern Kings, Guinness PRO14 Round 18, Saturday 23rd March, Kingspan Stadium (5.30pm):
(15-9): L Ludik; R Baloucoune, D Cave, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns, D Shanahan;
(1-8): A Warwick, R Herring, M Moore, A O’Connor (captain), I Nagle, M Rea, N Timoney, M Coetzee;
Replacements (16-23): J Andrew, W Herbst, T O’Toole, K Treadwell, C Ross, J Cooney, M Lowry, A Kernohan.

Team announcement from Ulster Rugby

Pro14

Scotland Ace Signs Contract Extension

One of Scotland’s key men has decided to put pen to paper on a new deal with his current club

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(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Scotland lock Ben Toolis has signed a new contract with current club Edinburgh ahead of the Six Nations with the national side.

The 27-year-old is included in Scotland’s Six Nations squad and has 22-caps to his name at the moment. Meanwhile at club-level Toolis has made over 100 appearances for Edinburgh since his debut in 2013. 

Speaking on the new deal Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill admitted he is delighted to have the Brisbane-born lock on board for the foreseeable future. 

“Ben is one of the most athletic locks in the league, while his ability and leadership at the lineout is key to the way we play. We are delighted to see him re-sign, and I’ve got no doubt that he will continue to be a big player for this club in the years to come,” he said to the club’s website. 

The length of the deal have not been announced, but it is a boost for both club and country as his stock continues to rise. 

Toolis will be hoping that he can continue his partnership with Grant Gilchrist in the upcoming Six Nations with the squad currently preparing to face Ireland in their opening game on February 1st.

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Pro14

Former Welsh Ace to Hang Up Boots

One of Wales’ former stars has confirmed that he will retire from rugby come the end of the current season

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Former Wales back James Hook has announced that he will be calling time on his professional rugby career come the end of the current season.

Hook is contracted to the Ospreys, but with his deal set to end at the end of the campaign he has decided the time has come to pull the curtain on a professional career spanning 16 years. 

“It’s sad but something I’m really looking forward to. It comes to everyone at some point and now it’s time for me. I’ve had lots of highlights, winning Grand Slam titles and Six Nations and going on the Lions tour in 2009. Then signing my first professional contract was a big moment for me. Growing up I always aspired to be a professional rugby player. You never think it’ll actually happen so when it did it really was amazing,” he said in a post on social media. 

The 34-year old picked up a total of 81-caps for Wales to go along with his 148 appearances for the Ospreys. 

As well as his time with the Welsh region Hook had spells at both Top 14 side Perpignan and English Premiership outfit Gloucester between his stints at the Ospreys. 

Hook has admitted he hopes to continue his rugby journey off the pitch, but that he is also looking forward to having more time to spend with his family after such a long time on the playing field. 

“I want to stay involved in the game, particularly working on the skills, like I do now with the young kickers and the age-grade sides, and I’m hoping to finish my level three coaching qualification. It’ll be nice to spend time with my family, my three young boys and my wife. It’s going to be sad not playing at the end of the season, but you’ve got to be positive and look on the bright side and I’m looking forward to what’s next,” he added. 

As well as his rugby career Hook has also written a series of children’s books that are set to be released later this year and that could provide him with something else to venture into if they are successful. 

However, for now he will be hoping that he can help the Ospreys turn around their disastrous season to date before he hangs his boots up for good. 

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Champions Cup

Connacht Set to Lose Big Star

Connacht look set to without one of their key men next season according to reports as he appears set for a move

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Connacht look as though they will have to deal without flanker Colby Fainga’a next season as he appears to be set for a move to French side Lyon according to Irish outlet the42.

They are reporting that the former Rebels man is the Top 14 side’s preferred replacement for the departing Liam Gill, who will leave at the end of this season. 

Connacht were keen to keep their players’ player of the year from last season and had entered contract talks to extend his deal past the original two years, but with talks stalling Lyon have come in with a reported offer of 300,000 euro a season which would be hard to refuse. 

The 28-year-old would be a huge loss to the western province having been such a massive influence since his arrival in 2018. 

However, more positive news for fans is that the back-rower is set to return from a knee injury this weekend against Toulouse, to help Connacht during a period where injuries have severely hampered them. 

It is understood that Connacht would like to replace Fainga’a with another overseas star, but for now they will hope to get the most out of the Aussie between now and the end of the season.

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