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Ulster Rugby Academy: Season Review

Kieran Campbell reflects on the season.

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It has been another busy year on and off the field for the Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy, and it has been a largely positive one, as Kieran Campbell, Academy Manager reflects:

“It’s been another successful season, particularly in terms of the number of Academy players who have transitioned into the senior team,” said Campbell.

“They’ve done really well in that environment and I think that has been reflected not only in their performances, but in how they’ve contributed to good victories both in the PRO14 and the Champions Cup.

“I think that has to be attributed to improved transition of players led by [Head Coach] Dan McFarland into the senior setup. The guys are learning incredibly quickly in that environment thanks to Dan and the other senior coaches and also making significant improvements to their game.”

The successful transition of players from the Academy squad into the Ulster senior team has certainly been one of the highlights of the season, with Academy players making an outstanding 107 appearances in Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup competition. As Campbell explains, this was not by chance.

“We’ve really developed that synergy with the seniors and we’ve put in place a formal system for transitioning Academy players up into the senior squad. All the activity of Academy players is intensely scrutinised now and we’re sharing that information with the senior coaching team, so we can use that information to identify when the player is ready to make that transition.

“Fourteen Academy players trained regularly with the seniors this year and Dan and [Scrum Coach] Aaron Dundon also ran a scrum clinic every week with the Academy and sub-Academy players alongside the senior front row.

“The Academy players also trained with the senior players not involved in match-day squads each Friday, so that has really helped accelerate their development and given the senior coaches and staff the opportunity to get to know them better. In addition to that, we’ve developed what we’ve called ‘the critical drop groups’ so the senior coaches now know exactly what the Academy players need to work on at every session to ensure they are constantly developing and this is done after sessions three times a week.”

The Ulster A team, sponsored by CD Group, once again proved to be a useful outlet for the young Academy players to test themselves at a more challenging level.

“We made a strategic decision between the Academy and senior staff that it would be a young Ulster A team this year and we’ve built our depth again through that. On average we had 16 Academy or sub-Academy players per Ulster A squad and have had reasonable success, winning five of the seven Celtic Cup games.

“Going across to the Cara Cup in America was a fantastic experience for a lot of those players to travel as a group and have a really intense week with two tough fixtures, so that was another great learning opportunity for those guys.”

Further down the player pathway, Ulster have enjoyed significant growth at national age-grade level in recent years, and have been well represented again this year.

“At age-grade level we’ve had good success in terms of players coming through at national level. We’re expecting to have around 24/25 national jerseys again this year across Ireland U18, U19 and U20 level, which is a good number and shows there’s a high quality players coming through our pathway.

“We’ve also had players involved in the Irish U20s Six Nations Grand Slam success and five going to the U20 World Championships so I think in general it’s been another move in the right direction this year and it’s something positive that we can build on going forward.”

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Off the field, a significant review of the Academy also took place this year, with the view of creating a sustainable, high-performing environment that will be a key asset to Ulster and Irish rugby, as Campbell explains:

“Obviously we’ve got a lot of key stakeholders – the Academy is very much a shared development space because not only do you have the Academy and senior players, but you’ve also got clubs and schools involved in the progress of each player.

“Therefore, it was important for the review that we involved Simon Best from a club perspective, Stephen Black from the schools and we also brought in two external people in Hugh McCaughey and Jo Hopkins, who is a consultant with the British Olympic programme, because we wanted to get an external high performance view on how we were developing, in terms of our processes within the Academy.

“We also spent some time visiting other high performances models to compare with our own and see if there was anything that we could improve in. We took those key people with us and we visited Exeter Chiefs, Saracens and Arsenal, and, with Jo there, we did a comparison with the British Olympic model as well.

“What did we learn from it? We learned that our own processes are actually pretty good but we also came back with some key areas for development and some of that has been in the transition processes that we’ve looked at between ourselves and the seniors.

“There’s also things that we’ve looked to improve in terms of how we shared information with our key stakeholders. We implemented a new communication platform to ensure there’s good liaison with our key stakeholders on the development of players but also to get their feedback on NTS (National Training Squad) and Academy players.

“We also looked at developing our coaching network and our Talent Coach programme, and that is something that we have put a real emphasis on this year – to develop a succession plan of quality coaches. We’re realistic in acknowledging that the power of what we deliver on the playing field can only be increased in line with the quality of coaches that we have working with the players at all the key levels.

“In terms of culture and environment, we’ve adopted the ‘fight for every inch’ and ‘squeeze every drop’ ethos from Dan [McFarland] – it was something we noticed particularly at Exeter and Saracens where they have such a strong, consistent culture throughout their teams so it is something that we will be pushing right down into our age grade squads from the very top. I think that is bearing fruit as well because it is creating an environment where guys are really striving to enhance their performance and that is obviously reflected in the number of national age grade jerseys and Ulster senior caps we’re getting and also results like the U19s beating the Australia national side.”

Despite another successful season in the books, Campbell is optimistic that there is still room for improvement next year.

“I think we have progressed well but there is still an opportunity to grow again next year. We had 10 Academy players capped for the seniors this year with more than 100 caps, which is great, and is more than any other PRO14 team. Of that, five of those guys have been regularly featuring in the senior team every week, so that’s been great progress but we’ve got a long way to go.

“I know Dan [McFarland] will be wanting to aim higher than just PRO14 semi-finals. We’ll want to be delivering more national jerseys than we are and being successful with the Ulster A team, and in terms of our actual pathway, we need to keep building on our culture, which is really developing well.

“We want to develop a mentoring programme with our senior players and our Academy players to keep developing players to be leaders in the future. We’ve got to keep building on the relationships we have with the senior coaches and the relationships they have with our players to accelerate their development.

“I think with all that work we’re growing the quality mass of players who can support the 1st XV. We’re very neat in our succession planning and we’re very clear in the areas that we need to create players for the senior team to help make them successful. Those are all very important areas of development and we will hopefully see a greater growth in how our programme delivers over the next few years.”

The post Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy Season Review appeared first on Ulster Rugby.

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Autumn Nations Cup

World Rugby approves birth right amendment for players to transfer unions

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  • New process can benefit players and the global competitiveness of rugby
  • Fairness and integrity key principles that underpin the framework
  • Approval follows extensive discussion and collaboration across the game
  • Revised Regulation will apply from 1 January 2022

The World Rugby Council has approved an amendment to the sport’s regulations governing national team representation that will now permit an international player to transfer once from one union to another subject to demonstrating a close and credible link to that union via birth right.

From 1 January, 2022, in order to transfer from one union to another under the revised Regulation 8 (eligibility), a player will need to achieve the below criteria:

  • The player must stand-down from international rugby for 36 months
  • The player must either be born in the country to which they wish to transfer or have a parent or grandparent born in that country
  • Under the revised Regulation 8 criteria, a player may only change union once and each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Regulations Committee to preserve integrity

After 1 January 2022, any player who meets the above criteria can apply immediately for a transfer.

The Regulation 8 revisions will also align the “age of majority” across 15s and sevens. All players will now be ‘captured’ at 18 years of age to simplify the Regulation and improve union understanding and compliance.

Approval of the amended regulation follows requests by emerging nations and a subsequent wide-ranging consultation process with member unions, regions and International Rugby Players examining the possibility of amending the principle within Regulation that stipulates that a player may only represent one union at international level, save for specific circumstances relating to participation in the Olympic Games.

The benefits of the amendment include:

  • Simplicity and alignment: transfers are currently permitted in the context of participation in the Olympics in the sevens game. This amendment will create one aligned, simplified process across the game
  • Development of emerging nations: the player depth of emerging nations may be improved by permitting players, who have close and credible links to the “emerging union” through birth or ancestry, to “return” to those unions having previously represented another union
  • Player-focused approach: the process recognised the modern rugby environment, including global player movement, the current ability to capture players by selecting them on the bench, and the desire of some players to transfer having been selected a limited number of times for one union. It also examined the impact of any change on the integrity of the international competition landscape.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “Approval of this landmark regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modelling and consultation across the game. We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game.

“Any player who wishes to transfer will need to have a close and credible link to their new union, namely birth right or parent or grandparent birth right while meeting strong criteria, including a 36-month stand down period. We believe that this is the fairest way to implement progressive change that puts players first while also having the potential to support a growing, increasingly competitive international men’s and women’s game.”

World Rugby Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte added: “We have listened to our membership and honoured our pledge to undertake wide-ranging review of this important regulation. We have consulted, sought feedback from our unions, regions and most importantly to players’ representatives, before making a recommendation to the Council. This change to how international rugby operates will provide transformational opportunities to players with dual backgrounds, providing they meet the key criteria sets out in the Regulation 8.”

International Rugby Players CEO, Omar Hassanein said:“The proposal to change the rules around player eligibility is something that we have worked on over many years with our member associations. Many players across the world will now benefit from the chance to represent the country of their or their ancestors’ birth, serving as a real boost to the competitiveness of emerging nations, which in turn, will benefit the game as a whole.” 

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Rugby

England name interesting squad to face Wallabies

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(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

The England line-up for this weekend’s Test match against Australia has been named.

Maro Itoje will make his 50th appearance for England, following his debut against Italy in 2016.

Captain Owen Farrell returns to the side at inside centre, Henry Slade stays at outside centre and Marcus Smith will start at fly half.

Jonny May (left) and Manu Tuilagi (right) will be on the wings, Freddie Steward is at full back and Ben Youngs is at scrum half.

In an unchanged forward pack from England’s 69-3 win over Tonga last weekend, Itoje is joined by lock Jonny Hill, hooker Jamie George and props Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler.

Courtney Lawes stays at blind-side flanker, Sam Underhill is open-side flanker and Tom Curry is at No. 8.

Bevan Rodd and Raffi Quirke could make their England debuts after being named as finishers – alongside Jamie Blamire, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Alex Dombrandt, Sam Simmonds and Max Malins.

Jones said: “We know this will be a tough test for us, we’re playing against a team who have been together a while and who have beat the world champions twice.  As an Australian I know how much this game means. 

“We’ve had a really good week of preparation, we’re looking to improve our performance this week and I think this side is building well.”

England v Australia is live on Amazon Prime Sport and TalkSPORT [Saturday 13 November, 5.30pm KO].

ENGLAND XV
15. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 3 caps)
14. Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 44 caps)
13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 41 caps)
12. Owen Farrell (Saracens, 93 caps)
11. Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 67 caps)
10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 3 caps)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 110 caps)
1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 31 caps)
2. Jamie George (Saracens, 60 caps)
3. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 45 caps)
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 49 caps)
5. Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, 10 caps)
6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 88 caps)
7. Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 25 caps)
8. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 34 caps)

FINISHERS
16. Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, 3 caps)
17. Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
18. Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 13 caps)
19. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 24 caps)
20. Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins, 2 caps)
21. Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 7 caps)
22. Raffi Quirke (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
23. Max Malins (Saracens, 8 caps)
ENDS

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Rugby

Triple injury blow for Wales as stars require surgery

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(ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones and back row Ross Moriarty underwent scans yesterday (Monday) due to shoulder injuries sustained on Saturday, in the game against New Zealand.

The scans revealed that neither Jones nor Moriarty will be able to participate further in the Autumn Nations Series, and will therefore be released from the squad. Both players will require surgery with an estimated recovery period of a number of months respectively.

Bath Rugby’s Taulupe Faletau has also been released from the Wales squad. Faletau’s ankle injury, sustained whilst training at Bath, will preclude him from taking part in the Autumn Nations Series.

Centre Uilisi Halaholo will re-join the squad on Friday, having spent 10 days in isolation after testing positive for Covid.

Cardiff Rugby’s Shane Lewis-Hughes and Ospreys’ Rhys Davies have been called in to the squad.

The 23-year-old Lewis-Hughes has three Test caps to his name, having made his international debut against Scotland in October 2020. He also featured against Ireland and England in last year’s Autumn Nations Cup.

Lock Davies, 22, was called into the summer squad but has yet to make his senior debut for Wales.

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