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.”
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) October 15, 2018
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.”
FT | Ulster U19 22 Australia Schools 17 – an unconverted try from George Saunderson gave Ulster a. 15-10 lead. Aus went under the posts with 15 mins to go 15-17. A try in the final seconds from Conor Rankin converted by Doak sealed the victory. pic.twitter.com/jWQdqvzWCW
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) December 4, 2018
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.
Arguably the most competitive category of the night, the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy Player of the Year award, has been won by @michaellowry15.
Congratulations to Michael and also nominees Robert Baloucoune and Angus Kernohan who have all enjoyed outstanding season’s. pic.twitter.com/OQPNw6xEWk
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) May 9, 2019
“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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PREVIEW: Munster V Connacht
The Westerners were narrowly defeated by the Southern province, 20-17, in the side’s last meeting in March in a keenly contested interprovincial derby.
Despite the loss, Friend says there were plenty positives to take from the performance — which he described as smart — and he says applying those traits to Friday evening’s game will be crucial to any win.
“What we brought in that game at Thomond, more so in the game here(the December meeting of the team’s at the Sportsground), was that we defensively muscled up against them,” the Australian said.
“I thought our line out worked really well against them, in both attack and defence, and I thought we played a smart brand of Rugby, in terms of what we were doing with the ball, whether we were kicking it long or kicking for contestables. They were key areas that I felt worked for us and we have to make sure we replicate that and some on Friday night.”
Friend, meanwhile, paid tribute to Quinn Roux after the Irish international announced he will leave the province at the end of the season after seven years in Connacht green.
While the second row will be missed, the head coach wished him the best of luck for the future and thanked him for his service.
“He’s given an enormous amount to this province,” the former Australian sevens coach said.
“He leaves with our blessing and our respect. We would love to keep him, of course we would, but at the end of the day, people make decisions. It was a lengthy process we went through and a decision was made at the end.
“We have already begun the process of recruiting a new second row and we will obviously make an announcement about that in due course.”
Elsewhere, second row Gavin Thornbury says that Friday’s renewal of rivalries with Munster will provide players the opportunity to put their hands up for international selection with the Irish national team.
Ireland recently announced summer tests against the USA and Japan in Dublin and Thornbury says that competing against other players in the fold for national team squad berths will give him — and every other eligible player — the platform to showcase their abilities and further their international ambitions.
“They are always big,” the 27-year-old said of the interprovincial clash.
“Every time an interpro is played, It’s played fully and 100%, no matter who is playing. It’s another chance to put yourself in the shop window. All I can do is make sure I get myself as mentally and physically in as good a position as possible to put in a performance on Friday. I’m looking forward to that.”
Irish line out coach Paul O’Connell attended Connacht training last week and Thornbury said it was a great opportunity to show a member of the national team coaching staff their qualities close up.
“It was good to get him down and show him what we’re doing here,” he said.
“He would have always been someone I looked up to, so it was nice to meet him and introduce myself and just have a conversation with him. We had a good conversation and I was pretty happy with that. Hopefully, now I just back it up with performances and that’s probably the biggest thing.”
Thornbury, who joined the Westerners in 2017 from Leinster, was superb in the last game between the teams, a 20-17 home win for Munster in March, and he said he is keen to make a similar impression on Friday and help the team go one better and claim a win.
“Yeah, it was good,” the Dublin native said when asked how he would assess his performance in his last trip to Thomond Park.
“I think a lot of things probably came off for me that mightn’t have come off on another night. Obviously, I was fully gutted with the result. I thought we put ourselves in a position where we could have won the game and unfortunately it didn’t come through.
“Personally, some stuff came off that I was really happy with but there’s a lot to keep working on.”
Source – Connacht Rugby By John O’Sullivan
Greencore Munster Rugby Academy Update | May 2021
It has been a busy past month for the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy.
Ian Costello was appointed to the role of Academy Manager in April and will return to the province in the summer having worked in England for the past five years with Nottingham and then Wasps. See full details here.
We can confirm that former Munster player Andi Kyriacou also rejoins the province as Elite Player Development Officer (Forwards). Andi has previously coached at Cardiff Blues, Sale Sharks, Russia Rugby and Nottingham.
Ben Healy made a further two appearances for the senior side over the past month and has now featured in 16 of Munster’s 22 games so far this season.
Academy trio Jack Crowley, Alex Kendellen and Conor Phillips have been training with the Ireland 7s team and have been named in their squad for this weekend’s International Rugby 7s tournament. See full details here.
On the injury front, Eoin O’Connor (knee), John Hodnett (achilles), James French (hamstring), Jonathan Wren (hamstring), Cian Hurley (thumb), Scott Buckley (knee) and Thomas Ahern (knee) are continuing to rehab.
We spoke to the Academy’s Lead Physiotherapist, Shane Malone (above), for the latest update.
Current Academy crop…
“We all want to see the lads do well because we see on a daily basis how hard they work. They are exceptionally dedicated and just a really good group of characters.
“It’s great to see the nine guys [who are moving up to the senior squad next year] rewarded for their hard work and getting the opportunity to prove themselves at pro level.”
Jack Crowley, Alex Kendellen and Conor Phillips involved with the Ireland 7s…
“It’s a great opportunity for guys to go up and prove themselves and gain a different skillset. They also have the opportunity to experience a different high performance environment.
“For our point of view, it’s been seamless because we have a very good relationship with the IRFU physios. We speak about the players that are involved on a weekly basis.”
Helping players to recover from long-term injuries…
“If you take John Hodnett’s injury as an example, the surgery on an Achilles rupture happens within a few days. Obviously with a severe injury like that you want to get as good a start as possible to get him back playing rugby as quickly and safely as possible.
“We gave John a bit of time away from the HPC to recuperate afterwards and leave everything settle down but we’re involved from day dot where we ring him at home to make sure he’s doing all the swelling management and all the acute care correctly.
“When he came back in here, it was full throttle from then on.
“It’s another opportunity for guys when they are injured to concentrate on other areas and John is developing his upper and lower body and he’s flying with that.
“He’s a young player so all that rehab and all that strength work is going to stand to him later in his career.”
Working with the sub-Academy players…
“Myself and Lorcan Kavanagh are the Academy physios. Lorcan also works with the sub-Academy/National Talent Squad group so we look after them if they pick up injuries.
“Academy staff look after how the sub-Academy players are developing from an athletic development point of view and also an injury prevention point of view as well.
“By the time lads get into the Academy, we usually have a very good idea of where they’re at and what they need to work on. It’s a real advantage for us to have that information as opposed to starting from scratch when they join the Academy, it’s really important.”
Greencore Munster Rugby Academy
Fifteen players commenced the 2020/21 season with two additional players, Cian Hurley and Conor Phillips, joining in January 2021. See the full Academy squad here.
Nine players from the current group will advance to senior contracts ahead of the 2021/22 season – Thomas Ahern, Jack Crowley, Jack Daly, Jake Flannery, James French, Seán French, Ben Healy, John Hodnett and Josh Wycherley.
Eoghan Clarke has completed his time with the academy and linked up with Championship side Jersey Reds at the end of March.
Seven academy players made their Guinness PRO14 debuts this season – Thomas Ahern, Jack Crowley, Jack Daly, Seán French, Cian Hurley, Alex Kendellen and Josh Wycherley. Young prop Wycherley also made his Champions Cup debut this season.
Out-half Ben Healy leads the way with senior appearances on the Academy front this season having featured in 16 of Munster’s 22 games, scoring 77 points.
66% – The future continues to be bright with an expected highest representation of academy graduates in over eight years in the squad next season.
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
O’Brien and Doris back training ahead of Ulster test
Both Jimmy O’Brien (hamstring) and Caelan Doris (calf) hope to resume full training this week after recovering from their respective injuries and, provided all goes well, both hope to be available for selection for Friday’s game.
Jamison Gibson-Park will continue to be managed this week with his hamstring injury while Jack Conan, who went off for a Head Injury Assessment against Connacht Rugby, will follow the Graduated Return to Play Protocols this week.
Unfortunately, Ciarán Frawley injured his shoulder and his hamstring against Connacht Rugby and will be unavailable for selection this week with further assessment required on his injuries.
There was no new update on a number of players: Rhys Ruddock (calf), Harry Byrne (hamstring), Johnny Sexton (concussion), Will Connors (knee), Jack Dunne (ankle), Adam Byrne (quad), Dan Leavy (knee), Conor O’Brien (knee) and Max Deegan (knee)
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