Ulster head coach Dan McFarland is delighted to have a player of his experience come on board.
“We are delighted that a player of Alby’s quality is set to join the squad. His leadership skills and extensive experience will be a valuable addition to our squad – especially for our younger scrum-halves as they progress in their development journeys in the months ahead. We look forward to giving him a warm welcome as he makes Ulster his new team,” he said.
The scrum-half played behind Conor Murray while in the southern province, providing cover while he went to the Rugby World Cup with Ireland and will play a similar role at Ulster it seems with John Cooney top of the No 9 list.
However, it is a positive signing for Ulster and they will hope he can have the same impact he had in Munster, where he earned many admirers for his displays in red.
Ulster Rugby to trial safe return of supporters this weekend
Press Release from Ulster Rugby:
Ulster Rugby will welcome 600 supporters to the 18,211-seater Kingspan Stadium on Friday night for the first game of the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season.
The trial to reintroduce supporters and other valued members of the Ulster Rugby family follows a comprehensive consultation process with local government, Belfast City Council and the IRFU. In total, around 850 people will attend the season opener against Benetton Rugby.
The event provides the club with the opportunity to work with supporters, to test a safe and manageable return to operations at Kingspan Stadium. Fans will be asked to provide feedback on their experience, to ensure the club continues to provide a safe and enjoyable experience in the weeks and months ahead.
All 600 tickets will be made available to #TogetherUlster Members only via an online ballot process. 300 Members will be randomly selected and granted the opportunity to purchase two tickets each.
Commenting on the announcement, Ulster Rugby CEO, Jonny Petrie, said:
“Following a number of very challenging months for us all, I’m encouraged that this weekend will mark the measured return of a limited number of spectators to Kingspan Stadium.
“It seems only fitting that the fans who chose to support us by buying a membership, during what is likely to be one of the most difficult times we will face as a club, will be able to join us in the stands as we kick-off the new Guinness PRO14 season at home.
“This event is the culmination of a considerable amount of planning and preparation from across Ulster Rugby – together with the IRFU, Belfast City Council and local government – to ensure this is a safe and managed return to the Friday night lights.
“We hope the upcoming match will be the solid foundation on which we can continue to build towards once again being able to all stand up together.”
Friday night’s match will be fully seated, in groups of two, with physically distanced seating available for supporters in the Grandstand, Memorial Stand and AbbeyAutoline Family Stand. All tickets are priced at £20 each – seats will be randomly allocated in one of the three stands.
The online ballot will be open for 24 hours from 2pm on Tuesday 29 September 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 via email by 4pm on Wednesday 30 September. They will then have until 10am on Thursday 1 October to process payment and confirm their ticket purchase.
Rob Kearney secures move to Australia
Press Release from Western Force:
Ireland’s most decorated player, Rob Kearney, has signed with the Western Force on a one-year deal.
At club level, Kearney has earned 219 caps for Leinster, playing a crucial role in establishing the provincial side as Ireland’s most successful club team, where he lifted six PRO14 titles, four European Champions Cups and a European Challenge Cup since debuting against Welsh side Ospreys back in 2005.
Kearney’s aerial prowess, strength and reliability throughout his career has seen the Dundalk-born player also earn three caps for the British and Irish Lions, which included Tours to South Africa in 2009 and a series victory against Australia in 2013.
Having conquered the European club and international landscape for over a decade, Kearney is delighted for the opportunity to ply his trade in Western Australia.
“I am delighted to be joining the Western Force for their upcoming season and excited to play with such an ambitious club who are looking to improve on this year’s campaign,” Kearney explained.
“I hope to add value both on and off the field that complements the high ambition of the club.
“I’m particularly excited to immerse myself in a new performance environment and to play both with and against some of the best players and teams in the southern hemisphere.
“I look forward to moving to Western Australia to begin building relationships with my new teammates and coaches alike and to meet the ever-growing Western Force fan base which also includes a strong Irish contingent.”
Head of rugby Matt Hodgson is excited to see the Force attract world class talent, saying it shows the potential and positive development of the club.
“Rob is a fantastic signing, but more than that he is a great person who will be able to bring a lot to WA rugby,” Hodgson stated.
“He is a player of the highest calibre that brings a wealth of experience and quality to the side.
“He also brings a winning mentality, having experienced so much success for his country and Leinster. We can’t wait for the Sea of Blue and the sizeable Irish community within WA to see him pull on the Force jersey next season.”
Kearney will join the club for pre-season later this year.
More player announcements can be expected in the coming weeks.
Guinness PRO14 make exciting statement regarding SA Rugby
The Guinness PRO14 this morning made the below statement regarding SA Rugby and the PRO14 which contains exciting news for the competition and South African Rugby.
“On August 25, PRO14 Rugby acknowledged that under current international travel restrictions it is not possible for South African teams to fulfil Guinness PRO14 fixtures until 2021.
PRO14 Rugby welcomes the news that the South African Rugby Union (SA Rugby) has been able to arrange a domestic schedule for its professional teams and that this is the first step in the return of their teams to on-field action.
SA Rugby’s long-standing commitments are to field two teams in the Guinness PRO14 and in light of the withdrawal of the Southern Kings, discussions are on-going about fulfilling this agreement from 2021 using a replacement team from its current professional franchises.
Additionally, both PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby are in early discussions about potentially expanding the tournament and deepening our partnership to include more South African franchises from 2021.”
The board of SA Super Rugby (Pty) Ltd – which trades as the Southern Kings placed the insolvent company into voluntary liquidation to secure the longer-term financial future of rugby in Eastern Province.
The shareholders – the Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) and SA Rugby – took the decision in the face of an accumulated deficit of R55m, and with zero income in prospect for the remainder of 2020.
The loss of the Southern Kings will not be seen as a huge loss to the competition with them rarely upsetting the Betway odds.
Active discussions are ongoing with other South African teams to fill the void left by the Kings and also the potential of adding further franchises to expand the league.
PRO14 confirmed in August that the South African based sides will not play in the PRO14 for the rest of this calendar year, missing the start of the 2020-21 season, but PRO14 are still hopeful they will be able to compete in the 2020/21 season.
The remaining 12 teams from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy will begin the new campaign in early October with the first round of 11 fixtures not involving the South African sides. It’s no surprise who the bookies favourites are for next season, and surely this will drive many fans to place bets on Rugby at Betway hoping for their side to come out on top.
As a result of COVID-19 and the impact it is has had and will have on rugby’s global competition structures, the PRO14 is the most likely home for more South African teams.
An interesting few months certainly ly ahead.