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
Leinster quartet nominated for 2023 EPCR Player of the Year Award
Caelan Doris, Jamie Osborne, Garry Ringrose and Josh van der Flier have this morning been named in a 15-man shortlist for the 2023 EPCR Player of the Year Award.
After winning the Anthony Foley Memorial Trophy last year, van der Flier has the opportunity to become the first player to successdully retain the title.
Doris had an excellent start ot the Heineken Champions Cup this season, winning Start of the Match honours, away to Racing 92 and at home to Gloucester.
Jamie Osborne had a standout performance in Kingsholm, where he was named Star of the Match in his first European start, as he also scored his first try in European competiton.
Ringrose earned Star of the Match honours against Racing 92 in Aviva Stadium, and has scored two tries in the pool stages.
Van der Flier scored a try in each of the four Pool matches, including a double in Le Havre against Racing, as he continues to impress in European competition.
Voting is now open HERE and fans will be in the running to win two VIP tickets with one night’s accommodation for the 2024 Heineken Champions Cup Final in May 2024.
At the conclusion of the semi-final matches in April, the list will be reduced to five players by a combination of the public vote and the verdict of the judges, and players who have not been included in the initial longlist, but who make a significant impact during the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, may be considered for the shortlist.
The voting will then re-open and the winner of the 2023 award will be announced following the Heineken Champions Cup final at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday, 20 May.
2023 EPCR PLAYER OF THE YEAR NOMINEES
Grégory ALLDRITT (Stade Rochelais)
Gavin COOMBES (Munster Rugby)
Caelan DORIS (Leinster Rugby)
Elliot DALY (Saracens)
Antoine DUPONT (Stade Toulousain)
Eben ETZEBETH (Cell C Sharks)
Jaden HENDRIKSE (Cell C Sharks)
Siya KOLISI (Cell C Sharks)
Makazole MAPIMPI (Cell C Sharks)
Julien MARCHAND (Stade Toulousain)
Emmanuel MEAFOU (Stade Toulousain)
Jamie OSBORNE (Leinster Rugby)
Garry RINGROSE (Leinster Rugby)
Justin TIPURIC (Ospreys)
Josh VAN DER FLIER (Leinster Rugby)
Images & Content from Leinster Rugby
Contract Update & Addition For 2023/24
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm contract extensions for Niall Scannell and Rory Scannell with Edwin Edogbo signing his first senior contract and John Ryan returning to Munster next season.
Niall and Rory have both signed two-year contract extensions with Edwin set to continue as an Academy player next season before moving up to the senior squad ahead of the 2024/25 campaign on a two-year contract.
John will return to Munster for the 2023/24 season. The tighthead prop has joined the Chiefs in New Zealand for the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific season and will return to Munster on a one-year contract.
Niall Scannell captained Munster for the second time in last weekend’s win over Benetton and has made 155 appearances for the province since his debut in 2013, scoring 21 tries.
The 30-year-old hooker has earned 20 Ireland caps and appeared at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Centre Rory Scannell has made 171 appearances for Munster and became the youngest player to reach 100 Munster appearances at the age of just 25 in 2019.
He has earned three Ireland caps and is the only player to have won the Munster Academy and Young Player of the Year awards in the same year after winning both accolades in 2016.
Academy lock Edwin Edogbo has earned his first senior contract having made a big impression in his seven Munster appearances so far this season.
Edwin came up through the ranks at Cobh Pirates and is the first player from the club to play for Munster in the professional era.
The 20-year-old plays his AIL rugby with UCC and is currently sidelined with an ankle injury.
John Ryan is one of only 13 players to have made over 200 appearances for Munster with the tighthead prop playing 205 games for the province to date.
The 34-year-old made his 50th Champions Cup appearance for the province in December and has also earned 24 Ireland caps, featuring at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
DHL Stormers named Team of the Year
The DHL Stormers were named Team of the Year and Head Coach John Dobson the Coach of the Year in SA Rugby’s annual awards.
The DHL Stormers, who won the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship and went unbeaten at DHL Stadium in 2022, were voted as the Team of the Year, with John Dobson duly taking the award for Coach of the Year (Evan Roos was named Vodacom URC Player of the Season last year June).
Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who led the SA Under-20s to a clean sweep of four wins in the Six Nations U20 Summer Series in Italy, was named Junior Springbok Player of the Year, edging out team-mates Suleiman Hartzenberg and Ruan Venter.
Springbok centurion Eben Etzebeth was named the SA Rugby Player of the Year for the first time after narrowly losing out to Springbok captain Siya Kolisi in 2021, but last season the towering lock was a constant star in the green and gold, along with fellow nominees for the top award in Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Frans Malherbe.
Canaan Moodie, who celebrated his Springbok debut last year with a superb try against Australia in Sydney while still an Under-20, was voted as the Young Player of the Year. He was nominated ahead of Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Jaden Hendrikse, Evan Roos and Henco van Wyk, underlining the rich vein of talent coming through in South Africa.
Nadine Roos highlighted her versatility in 2022 as she shone for both the national XVs and sevens teams in two Rugby World Cup tournaments, and she was rewarded for her brilliant form by being included in the World Rugby Dream Team after the RWC Sevens in Cape Town in September.
The other nominees were 2021 winner, Lusanda Dumke (flank), as well as No 8 Aseza Hele, who won the award in 2019, as well as midfield stars Zintle Mpupha and Aphiwe Ngwevu.
Hard-working forward JC Pretorius won the award for Springbok Sevens Player of the Year during a season in which the Blitzboks won four tournaments and just missed out on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title. The other nominees were Selvyn Davids and Zain Davids.
The Airlink Pumas’ triumph in the Carling Currie Cup was reflected in the award for Premier Division Player of the Year, which was won by Sebastian de Klerk, who scored eight tries from outside centre during the season as the Lowvelders won the title from fourth spot on the log. He edged out provincial team-mates Willie Engelbrecht and Devon Williams for the title.
The award for Carling Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year was won by Down Touch Griffons scrumhalf Jaywinn Juries, who contributed a massive 169 points to the Northern Free Staters’ cause during the season which saw them not only win the competition, but also earn promotion to the Premier Division at the end of the season.
Dumke, who led the Border Ladies to a second successive Women’s Premier Division title, won the award for Provincial Women’s Player of the Year.
The OUTsurance Referee of the Year, for a second successive season, is Aimee Barrett-Theron, who represented South Africa at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Barrett-Theron also made her debut in the Vodacom URC, establishing her as one of the foremost women’s referees in the world.
Mr Mark Alexander, President of SA Rugby, congratulated the winners and applauded their achievements during a busy 2022 season.
“Eben has been a Springbok stalwart for more than a decade and it’s just amazing to see how he keeps getting better with age, playing with maturity and providing valuable leadership to the Springboks,” said Mr Alexander.
“The Boks are building on depth and experience with an eye on the Rugby World Cup later this year, and I think they are in a good space under the coaching of Jacques Nienaber and the captaincy of Siya, but Eben’s role can’t be underestimated as he is not only the most experienced member of the squad, but he also sets the example for younger players and was widely regarded as one of the best players on the planet last year.
“Looking at the quality of young talent coming through, Canan was deservedly voted as the Young Player of the Year, but the other names of the list of nominees are all expected to still make a major mark on South African rugby, which bodes very well for the future.
“The winners in the other categories for our national teams, Nadine, JC and Sacha, all deserve these accolades after superb performances during the season. Starring in XVs and sevens takes some doing and Nadine never missed a beat; JC was a constant star for the Blitzboks; and Sacha is another one of the upcoming crop of future stars.
“I would also like to congratulate John and the DHL Stormers on their magnificent achievement in winning the Vodacom URC, as well as Sebastian, Jaywinn and Lusanda for leading the way in our very tough provincial competitions.
“The new year is already in full swing, but there is still a lot of rugby to be played and all eyes will be on France in September and October when the Boks defend the Webb Ellis Cup. I would like to congratulate every winner on their awards and wish them well for the next year, but I would also like to thank all the players, young and old, their coaches and team management, match officials, administrators, all our loyal sponsors and all other role players for making 2022 a season to remember.”
The winners and finalists (where applicable) for 2022 are:
SA Rugby Player of the Year: Eben Etzebeth
Finalists: Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe
SA Rugby Young Player of the Year: Canan Moodie (Springboks / Vodacom Bulls)
Finalists: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Junior Springboks / South Africa ‘A’ / DHL Stormers), Jaden Hendrikse (Springboks / Cell C Sharks), Evan Roos (Springboks / DHL Stormers), Henco van Wyk (South Africa ‘A’ / Emirates Lions)
Springbok Women’s Player of the Year: Nadine Roos
Finalists: Lusanda Dumke, Aseza Hele, Zintle Mpupha, Aphiwe Ngwevu
Springbok Sevens Player of the Year: JC Pretorius
Finalists: Selvyn Davids, Zain Davids
Junior Springbok Player of the Year: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu
Finalists: Suleiman Hartzenberg, Ruan Venter
Team of the Year: DHL Stormers
Finalists: Airlink Pumas, Springboks
Coach of the Year: John Dobson (DHL Stormers)
Finalists: Jacques Nienaber (Springboks), Jimmy Stonehouse (Airlink Pumas)
Carling Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year: Sebastian de Klerk (Airlink Pumas)
Finalists: Willie Engelbrecht (Airlink Pumas), Devon Williams (Airlink Pumas)
Carling Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year: Jaywinn Juries (Down Touch Griffons)
Finalists: Jaiden Baron (Boland Kavaliers), Duan Pretorius (Down Touch Griffons)
Provincial Women’s Player of the Year: Lusanda Dumke (Border Ladies)
OUTsurance Referee of the Year: Aimee Barrett-Theron
Vodacom United Rugby Championship Player of the Season (announced last year): Evan Roos (DHL Stormers)
Finalists: Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks), Marcell Coetzee (Vodacom Bulls), Warrick Gelant (DHL Stormers), Ruan Nortje (Vodacom Bulls), Vincent Tshituka
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