BKT United Rugby Championship Launch | Iain Henderson Interview
Ahead of this season’s BKT United Rugby Championship kicking-off next weekend, Captain Iain Henderson recently chatted to media about Ulster’s ambitions for the year ahead, and when he’s planning on being back in action.
So Iain, how’s the rehab going?
It’s going really well. Shortly after coming back from New Zealand, I got my knee looked at – and I had a few fixups from last season on my hand, so the team have been looking after me really well at home. Hopefully I’ll be getting back into full rugby training soon. With the season ahead, we want to make sure I’m getting back to full fitness. With a bit more training, and a few good weeks under my belt, I’m hopeful my return will be in a couple of weeks.
Given the season ahead, it must be important that you get your return right?
That’s the thing. There are loads of URC, European and International games to be played over the next twelve months, and that includes a big summer next year. Ensuring the body is in the best position and place to deal with all that is important. I’m 100% taking the guidance of the guys looking after me, and I have full faith in them. I know they have my personal and long-term interests at heart.
After the disappointment of the United Rugby Championship Semi-Final last season, how are the team feeling?
Every year, it feels we are getting better, and making improvements – and that includes exciting new players coming through. Ensuring the guys that have been around a bit longer, like myself, are keeping driving that is important, and we want to keep getting better. The new guys are superb – the effort, skill level and professionalism – I couldn’t fault any of that. We are right behind our Support Staff, and everyone in the organisation, as we work together to hopefully ensure we can take that one extra step next year.
Speaking of the South African teams, what do you think they have brought to the BKT United Rugby Championship?
At the start of last season, they started in a way that they wouldn’t have wanted to. We had a chat our side in Kingspan that we shouldn’t be fooled by this, as it wasn’t a true representation of how they are going play and end up when they found their feet. With how strong they finished, and how difficult they were to overcome at home that was something that from the start of the season might have seemed shocking. But we know the quality of South Africa as a rugby nation, and the clubs individually are very good too. That extra dynamic has brought another level of difficulty to the league, which I think is exciting.
And in terms of touring South Africa, how do the squad find that?
It gives the chance for clubs to go on a rugby tour, which is great for team bonding, and good for us to be able to experience as a playing squad. A lot of the younger guys, or the lads that don’t play International, they don’t go away anymore. I feel that has disappeared a bit out of professional rugby, so it’s good to get that aspect of things in the URC. We’re heading back to South Africa in a few weeks, and this will be the third time this calendar year. The lads have a real appetite to get away with each other again and enjoy each other’s craic, and that’s a really healthy thing.
Connacht up first. How are you feeling with an Inter-pro to start the BKT URC?
It’s an exciting one to start – talk about hitting the ground running! In terms of pre-season, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch it from the sidelines. I’ve been doing my rehab at the side of the pitch, and the intensity at which they are training at is something that they are really going after. It’s about ensuring that we hit the ground running, and don’t look sluggish in the first game. The intensity that an Inter-pro brings is something that you can’t sit back and wait to come to you. Playing Connacht first-up especially, it’ll be about who will throw the first punch, and who’s going to come out and start the game. That’ll be something we’ll be wary of, and I look forward to seeing who does it.
Ulster Rugby will be at home for three of the opening four rounds of the new BKT United Rugby Championship season, including two inter-provincial derbies.
Ulster v Connacht
Sat 17 Sep, 7.35pm
Ulster v Leinster
Fri 30 Sep, 7.35pm
Ulster v Ospreys
Sat 8 Oct, 7.35pm
Match tickets for each of these fixtures are available to buy now at ulster.rugby/buytickets.
Images & Content – Ulster Rugby
All You Need To Know | Barbarians Double-Header
The Munster Men’s and Women’s team will be in action this weekend in a historic double-header against the Barbarians.
Find out all you need to know ahead of the games below.
There will be a minute’s applause for Greig Oliver ahead of the men’s game following his tragic passing in July. Hawick RFC posted a lovely piece on a commemorative event that was recently held at the club here. Read our tribute to Greig here.
The women’s game kicks off at 2pm and the men’s game starts at 4.30pm.
Tickets are available to purchase here from €20 for adults and €10 for juniors right up until kick off.
The best value tickets are the Family Packs of four tickets for just €40 which include 2 Adults & 2 Juniors tickets.
Live on Access Munster, brought to you by Pinergy – see full details here.
Did you know?
The URC trophy will be on display for photos behind the North Terrace.
The first-ever Barbarians Women’s game was played against Munster at Thomond Park in 2017.
The Munster men’s team have never faced the Barbarians.
All four sides will be named before lunchtime on Friday.
Hear from Munster Women’s Head Coach Niamh Briggs and Men’s Head Coach Graham Rowntree ahead of the games.
Tickets for all Munster men’s home game for the 2023/24 campaign are available here.
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Cardiff announce signing of new fly-half
Cardiff Rugby have added further depth to their fly-half resources with the signing of former Wales Under-20s star Arwel Robson.
The 26-year-old arrives from Cornish Pirates where he has spent the last two seasons after leaving Dragons RFC in 2021.
Robson has already linked up with the first-team squad and is relishing the opportunity that lies ahead at Cardiff Arms Park.
He said: “I’m incredibly excited to make the move to Cardiff. It’s an honour to be able to play at the Arms Park and I can’t wait to get the chance to run out here for the first time.
“I grew up on the terraces of the Arms Park, in a family of Cardiff season ticket holders and I was a ball boy for years so it is a club that means a huge amount to me and my family.
“After speaking to Matt about the style of play he wants to utilise, I’m confident it will really suit me and also continue to bring my game on.
“I’m very grateful to everyone at Cornish Pirates for the opportunity and support they gave me in the past few years.
“I’ve played a lot of rugby down there and feel I am returning to Wales a better player and I am looking forward to continuing my development at the Arms Park.
“Cardiff also have a reputation for developing talent and the progression of players from the academy right through to the senior national team is testament to that.
“Now I am just looking forward to getting on the training pitch and competing for game-time.”
Robson will fight for a place at fly-half alongside fellow new signing Tinus de Beer, Ben Thomas and academy duo Harrison James and Harri Wilde.
He is the fourth signing this summer, following de Beer, Ciaran Parker and Rhys Litterick, and head coach Matt Sherratt is pleased to add to his fly-half resources.
Sherratt said: “We are delighted have have signed Arwel for this season. He has a good skill set, will challenge the line and having regular game time has improved his in game management.
“He has played a significant amount with Cornish Pirates over the past two seasons which is a sign of a player who was willing to take himself out of his comfort zone to go to a new club and get regular game time. It shows he is driven.
“Added to that he has a connection with the region and a point to prove in the Welsh professional game. He gives us a bit more depth at 10 and has slotted in well to training.”
Spingbok loosehead joins DHL Stormers ranks
Loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka has joined the DHL Stormers squad ahead of the 2023/24 season.
The 33-year-old Springbok front row forward has made the move to Cape Town and brings considerable experience with him.
Gqoboka only took up the game at the age of 19 and within two years had already secured his first professional contract. He has accumulated over 150 senior caps since then and made his Springbok debut in 2019.
DHL Stormers Head Coach John Dobson said that Gqoboka’s proven track record means he will be ready to hit the ground running when the season gets underway.
“Lizo is an experienced player who would be a valuable asset for any squad in what is an important position.
“He has already settled in well here in the pre-season and we are all looking forward to seeing what he can do when the season gets underway,” he said.
Gqoboka said that having played against the DHL Stormers many times in his career, he is excited about feeling the support of the Faithful.
“This is a great team with some incredible supporters and I can’t wait to run out in the blue and white jersey and give my all.
“My family and I have felt at home right away here, my teammates and the coaches have been so welcoming and I want to repay that when I get the chance to take the field as a DHL Stormer,” he said.