Ulster got their Guinness PRO14 campaign underway on Friday evening against the Ospreys in Belfast. Ulster gave new summer singings, Sam Carter, Matt Faddes and Jack McGrath their debuts but were forced into a late change with Jordi Murphy being withdrawn just before kick-off as a precaution for Jack Conan who has picked up a foot injury in Japan. Greg Jones came into the side starting at 8 with Clive Ross taking his spot on the bench.
Ospreys got the first points of the evening after an Ulster infringement allowed Luke Price to have an easy shot at goal. It wasn’t long until they were back on the scoreboard after a great try from Ospreys Full-Back Dan Evans. A quick snap from Aubrey to Price caught the Ulster inside defence out with Dan Evans running a great inside line bursting through the line untouched, still with a lot to do Evans feinted inside turning Lyttle’s shoulders before taking the outside, Lyttle caught Evans just shy of the line but the Ospreys veteran just did enough to touch down for the unconverted try.
Ulster were offered their first points of the evening after the Ospreys gave away a breakdown penalty following a strong carry and off-load from James Hume. Cooney pushed his attempt wide of the right post leaving the Ospreys ahead on the scoreboard by 8.
Ulster shortly made their way back into the Ospreys 22 with an attacking line-out providing a good platform for the Ulster backline to launch from. With the Ulster pack rumbling forward, the ball came loose but was fed to Ulster Out-Half who dinked the ball wide with a flat cross-field kick that was gathered after one bounce by returning winger Craig Gilroy. Cooney after missing a relatively simple penalty only minutes earlier made it a 7-pointer with the ball clearing the bar via the left upright narrowing the Ospreys lead to just 1 point. 7-8.
With it being the first game of the season, handling errors were plentiful for both sides but Ulster certainly looked the more dangerous when in possession. Billie Burns successfully found Rob Lyttle with another beautiful dinked cross-field. Lyttle showed great strength and pace but perhaps had the option to feed new signing Matt Faddes with a simple 2 v 1 but opted to go himself only to be hauled down short of the line. Cooney had a dart from close range but was held up. Thankfully for Ulster, Ospreys winger Luke Morgan was off-side, yellow carded and the Ulster pack were given another bash at the try line off a driving maul. After several phases, Greg Jones got across the line for a converted try with Ulster taking a 14-11 lead.
Ospreys lost lock, James king to injury just prior to half time, Baker replaced him making his first competitive appearance in almost 2 years following a horror injury. 2 penalties in quick succession from Ulster gave the Ospreys territory and a chance to draw level. Luke Price again converting.
On the stroke of half-time Ulster regained the lead. John Cooney could easily have been judged to have played the Ospreys 9 but the ref waved play-on and a strong Ulster counter attack that included another strong carry from James Hume followed by a quick pick from Rob Lyttle saw Ulster stretch the Ospreys defence. Quick ball allowed the ball to come wide to Craig Gilroy who turned from scorer to provider with a skip pass to Matt Faddes who finished well in the corner on debut. Cooney nailed the touchline conversion to send Ulster in at half-time 21-14 up.
HT – Ulster 21 – 14 Ospreys.
The 2nd-half started off a little duller than the first, literally, with one set of floodlights failing. Cooney was on-hand shortly into the 2nd-half to extend the Ulster lead with another penalty and it wasn’t long until Ulster secured their bonus point.
Faddes and Lyttle linked up well on several occasions before Burns was given another opportunity to drop it onto the foot for another cross-field for Gilroy. This time he collected it on the full, scoring the bonus point try under the posts giving Cooney an easy conversion.
With the bonus point in the bag, Burns was withdrawn with the lively Michael Lowry coming on at Out-Half. Ulster continued to pin back the Ospreys with Lowry and Faddes putting the pull in behind the Ospreys defence on several occasions.
Ulster continued to dominate possession and territory throughout the second half but it wasn’t until the 70th minute before the scoreboard was moved again. Debutant Faddes picked up a loose kick and glided through the Osprey defence linking up again with the dangerous Lyttle. He chipped over the remaining defenders and as he was about to stretch out to touch down the bouncing ball, Ospreys winger, Morgan was adjudged to have played him without the ball by the TMO. Controversially Ulster were awarded a penalty try and Morgan was given his second yellow card of the game.
Ospreys finished the game by finally playing some rugby in the Ulster 22. After several phases they eventually got across the try line but after a TMO review it was adjudged that the line breaking pass was forward.
FT – Ulster 38 – 14 Ospreys.
A very positive opening performance from Ulster to kick off their season. New signings Carter, McGrath and Faddes all impressed, especially Faddes who combined well with Rob Lyttle on several occasions. Ulster fans will also be glad to see Craig Gilroy return to action after a long spell on the sidelines. Other impressive performances came from young centre, James Hume who looked dangerous in attack with several strong carries. Mike Lowry looked a threat every time he touched the ball and Sean Reidy put in a huge shift with 16 tackles. Rob Lyttle got special praise from Ulster Head coach Dan McFarland in the post-match press conference, not just for his continual attacking threat but also for his defensive display and his fight and willingness to keep the ball alive.
Man of the Match was awarded to Billie Burns. Despite only playing 50 minutes he had a huge influence in the game with 3 pinpoint cross-field kicks, 2 of which directly resulted in tries and another which ultimately led to a try being scored just a few phases later. He spoke with Premier Sports post-game.
Ulster head to South Africa on Tuesday for their next round of PRO14 Fixtures where they will face the Cheetahs and Southern Kings. McFarland is planning on taking a 28-man squad to South Africa which could include Springbok Marcel Coetzee who is on track to make a faster than expected return from injury. Coetzee suffered a syndesmosis injury and had surgery just 5 weeks ago but is hoping to be back in action within the next 2-3 weeks. Stuart McCloskey has picked up a ‘lower limb’ injury and will be doubtful to make the trip.
RG Snyman On Joining Munster Rugby
Munster Rugby’s summer signing RG Snyman spoke to the media remotely via conference call on Tuesday for the first time since joining the province.
The World Cup winner covered a wide range of topics, check out a few snippets from the press conference below.
Moving from Japan to Munster Rugby…
“The biggest reason I came here was coach Johann. I’ve worked with him in the past and I know the quality of coach he is.
“I haven’t worked under him that much before, even though I know him a long time. But I do know that he’s a quality coach. Speaking to anyone that has ever worked with him, it’s only positive [things that they say].
“I really enjoyed my time in Japan. From a career perspective, I thought it was a better move to come over to Munster and work under coach Johann to keep moving forward and keep improving.
“I still think I need to work on the smaller details from a technical side and working under him is great for that because he is very technical and his off-field work is very detailed.”
Adapting to European rugby…
“I think the rugby here in the northern hemisphere is very physical so I’m looking forward to that. Broadening my game a bit set-piece wise, that’s something I’m looking forward to as well.
“I think the weather will play a big part in the games. I’ve noticed the last couple of weeks at training that it’s not as easy to hold onto the ball as it is in South Africa or even Japan.
“I will have to adapt to it a little bit but I think it’s ok, I can work around it.”
Familiarising yourself in new surroundings…
“We have mainly seen the places around Limerick and we went to Dublin for a few days and I’ve actually seen the Aviva Stadium as well so it’s nice to see where we’re going later this month.”
Springboks team-mate Damian de Allende…
“I actually didn’t know he was coming as well [when I signed]! I’m very happy because he’s a great guy and he’s a hard-working player as well and I’m looking forward to seeing some good collisions from him.”
Watch our first interview with RG from last month below along with some highlights from his career so far below.
Video | Introducing RG Snyman
Connacht Rugby announce signings of Ben O’Donnell and Abraham Papali’i
Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce the signings of Australian 7s player Ben O’Donnell and Bay of Plenty Number 8 Abraham Papali’i.
The pair will link up with the squad before the start of the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season.
Ben O’Donnell joins from the Australian Sevens programme, having played 95 matches for his country since he was handed his debut in 2017 under Andy Friend. The 24-year old went on to score 47 tries in that time and has been a key figure in their progression through the World Rugby Seven Series over the past three seasons.
O’Donnell was voted Australian Sevens Player of the year in 2018 and subsequently went on to be the first Australian player ever nominated for the World Sevens Player of the Year.
New Zealander Abraham Papali’i arrives from Bay of Plenty where he was a key member of the squad that won the Mitre 10 Cup Championship last year. The Auckland-born duel code player started his Rugby Union career with North Harbour before being recruited into the New Zealand Warriors (Rugby League) pathway. In 2015 Papali’i signed a two year contract with the Sydney Roosters of the Australian National Rugby League (NRL).
Following his time with the Roosters, Papali’i joined Lézignan Sangliers in the premier French Rugby League competition before the 6’4” number 8 returned to New Zealand and successfully restarted his Rugby Union career with Bay of Plenty.
Head Coach Andy Friend says today’s announcement is a significant boost ahead of the return to rugby.
“I am delighted to welcome Ben and Abraham to Connacht Rugby.
I got to know Ben very well on the Australian Sevens scene. It did not surprise me that he went on to become such an important player for them and I am thrilled that he has chosen to join Connacht.
Abraham is a powerful number 8 who has all the attributes to become a really valuable player for us while furthering our options in the back row. I know every Connacht supporter will be excited to see what he can offer.”
Friend expressed his excitement about the announcement and what the squad can achieve in the upcoming season.
“Today’s announcement comes on the back of discussions that started a number of months ago and we are delighted to eventually be able to share this exciting news with all of our supporters today.
These signings bring our squad up to 43 players for next season. We have freshened up and added depth to our squad in a number of key areas, having signed a healthy blend of young exciting players who have come through our Academy system as well as bringing in some additional quality and experience from further afield.
We are an ambitious group and I firmly believe we have all the tools we need to kick on to the next level and achieve success in what is going to be a really exciting season.”
Press Release from Connacht Rugby
Connacht raid Provincial rivals. 4 new signings confirmed.
The quartet will become Connacht Rugby players from July 1st with Arnold, Dowling and Aungier penning two-year deals.
Irish international Sammy Arnold has made 44 appearances for Munster since joining the province from Ulster in 2016, scoring 8 tries in the process. The 24-year-old centre has been named both Ulster Academy Player of the Year and Munster Young Player of the Year, and made his International debut against USA in the 2018 Autumn Internationals.
Back row Conor Oliver has featured 28 times for Munster since making his debut in February 2016 and was named Munster Academy Player of the Year the following season. The 24-year-old can play on either flanks or as a number 8, expanding the coaching team’s options heading into the new season.
Oliver and Arnold both featured for Ireland in the 2015 World Rugby U20 Championship, who were then coached by current Connacht Attack Coach Nigel Carolan.
Jack Aungier made his Leinster senior debut last November and has gone on to make 5 appearances for the side in the current Guinness PRO14 season. The prop has also impressed at underage level, featuring for the Ireland U20s and U18 Clubs squad.
Oisin Dowling arrives from the Leinster Rugby Academy having played 6 times for the senior squad in the past two seasons. The 6’5’’ lock has also been capped at Irish U20 level.
Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says all four players can make significant contributions to the squad ahead of the new season.
In Sammy, Conor, Oisin and Jack we have secured the signings of four very talented and promising young Irish rugby players. They each have unique skillsets which will enhance our squad for next season and beyond, and will allow us to continue to grow as a program. We’re all looking forward to welcoming them to The Sportsground and integrating them into our playing squad.
Press Release from Irish Rugby