A year ago, Ulster Rugby was in a dark place. A continuing exodus of players following on from the previous season, Ulster’s Director of Rugby sacked and its under-fire CEO leaving the province in complete disarray.
Ulster had no knockout rugby to play for in either the European Champions Cup or Pro14 competitions (unless you count the play-off against the Ospreys to determine whether or not Ulster would qualify for the 2018-19 Champions Cup). Ulster’s final standing at 4th place in their conference was well below the expectations of fans and club.
Fast-forward to 30th March 2019, Ulster are not only in a good position to reach the Pro14 play-offs,
You could argue that the beginning of the 2018-19 season was a little shambolic. Newly signed Head Coach, Dan McFarland was contracted to the Scottish Rugby Union as Forwards coach until January 2019, and although Ulster
This is Dan McFarland’s first gig as a Head Coach, but he is highly regarded among his peers, and judging by his knack for saying all the right things in media interviews and Q&As with fans, you get the feeling he is an excellent man manager; a skill that is becoming all the more crucial when it comes to professional rugby. Dan Soper, highly-decorated schools and club coach, joined McFarland’s team as Skills Coach, working alongside Jared Payne, Defence Coach and Dwayne Peel, Assistant Coach. Ex-Edinburgh stalwart, Roddy Grant will join Ulster next season as Forwards Coach, replacing the outgoing Aaron Dundon.
At the end of October, Ulster Rugby finally announced the appointment of its new CEO, Jonny Petrie, Managing Director at Edinburgh Rugby, who would take up his role in the New Year. By this point, you could sense a change for the better was on the horizon. Petrie, former Glasgow and Scotland captain has not only a sound business pedigree, having worked as Head of Sponsorship at SSE, he is also a rugby man through-and-through. Although he has been in his post for only a few short months, he already appears to be more visible and accessible than his predecessor, attending fan Q&As and engaging with schools and clubs.Embed from Getty Images
Ulster had a shaky start to the season; their largest ever defeat by Munster away and losing at home for the first time in 58 years against Connacht being two games that Ulster will not remember fondly. However, a spate of solid new signings and promotions announced by Ulster has bolstered confidence within the squad and among its fans. Wallabies lock, Sam Carter from the Brumbies, Irish-qualified prop, Gareth Milasinovich from Worcester, and most notably, loosehead prop, Jack McGrath will move to Ulster from Leinster – yes, the Irish international and British and Irish Lion. Rising stars from the Ulster Academy, Michael Lowry, Eric O’Sullivan and James Hume have all been promoted into the senior squad. A number of contract extensions have been secured, including that of Ulster’s powerful backrower, Marcell Coetzee, who has committed to the club for a further three years after his first two seasons were dogged by long-term injury.Embed from Getty Images
The squad is now starting to take shape with a backbone of Irish internationals in Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale, Jordi Murphy, John Cooney and Iain Henderson; key club men like Darren Cave, Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey rotating in the midfield, Billy Burns at out-half, Marty Moore and Eric O’Sullivan in the front row, Marcell Coetzee, Nick Timoney and Sean Reidy bolstering back row options; complemented by emerging young talent in Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, Matty Rea, Rob Lyttle and James Hume to name a few.
This Six Nations window can be a disruptive period for most clubs in the Pro14, but Ulster has fared well despite losing its Irish internationals, winning four out of five games and drawing in one. Coaching systems are starting to develop, with Ulster’s defence improving (even keeping the Ospreys to a score of nil away), and being more clinical in attack.Embed from Getty Images
Most people have been realistic about the work that is required at Ulster by the new CEO and coaching team, with many believing that it will be a three-year rebuilding period – to bed in structures and plans, to blood young talent and to astutely recruit overseas players – before we see meaningful results. Dare we say it, but Saturday’s Champions Cup thriller against Leinster might just have demonstrated that Ulster is well and truly having a revival and are possibly ahead of schedule. Ulster’s defence for most parts of the game was watertight with suffocating line speed and 251 tackles made. Tackles were not only made, but they were aggressive – as were the carries, most notably from Iain Henderson, Stuart McCloskey, Marcell Coetzee and Kieran Treadwell. At the end of the game, bodies were strewn across the pitch after such a literally bruising encounter with the current champions. You could sense the mutual respect demonstrated by players from both provinces as they shook hands and embraced; a feeling you perhaps wouldn’t have had as recently as the 5th January, after Leinster’s previous despatching of Ulster in January by 40 points to 7.
Of course this was only one match, and Ulster often ups its game when it comes to play-offs, but this game felt like a real turning-point when they were able to go toe-to-toe with the reigning champions, so achingly close to beating them, and at such an early stage in the transformation period of the club with so much more still to come, we can maybe whisper – the future looks bright for Ulster.
How to watch Ulster in the United Rugby Championship
Ulster Rugby will begin its exciting journey into the new United Rugby Championship this Friday night, hosting Glasgow Warriors under the lights at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm).
We are delighted to be able to welcome up to 15,000 supporters at Friday’s fixture, and tickets are still available. For more information on Friday’s event, or to buy tickets, please click here.
The introduction of South Africa’s four elite teams to the URC has created a challenge unlike any other, with two hemispheres colliding as the best of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales take on the best of South Africa.
If you’re planning on following Ulster’s URC campaign from home, we have pulled together this handy guide on how to watch all the action for supporters in the UK and Ireland…
Premier Sports is the only place for supporters in the UK to watch every single United Rugby Championship game live this season. You can follow Ulster home and away as Premier Sports will broadcast all 151 games, including eight games per round plus coverage of all the knock-out drama and Grand Final.
Ulster legends Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Paul Marshall, along with presenters Graham Little and Mark Robson, are among the talent returning to the screens this season.
Fans can tune in on Sky, Virgin TV, or online using the Premier Sports Player from start to finish – you can subscribe now at premiersports.com to watch all 151 games live for less than £1 a game.
Ulster Rugby returns to BBC Northern Ireland this season with live free-to-air coverage of six of the province’s home matches in the inaugural United Rugby Championship.
In addition to televising live the home fixtures against Benetton, Emirates Lions, Connacht, Cardiff, Munster and the Cell C Sharks, every Ulster URC fixture will be available on BBC iPlayer 24 hours after each round.
A new weekly TV programme – ‘The Ulster Rugby Show’ – featuring a line-up of special guests and pundits will take a light-hearted look at the latest news and talking points from the province and across the new tournament. The first episode will air this Thursday 23 September at 10.00pm on BBC2 NI.
RTE / TG4
RTE and TG4 have also picked up broadcast rights to show ten games on free-to-air TV this season.
Among the fixtures being covered live by the Ireland-based broadcasters are the three away interprovincial derbies against Connacht, Leinster and Munster.
New for the 2021/22 season, URC TV is an online streaming service giving fans the opportunity to watch every game live and on demand.
A free service showing a range of highlights, archive matches and snackable videos, will be available in all countries including the UK and South Africa (fans in these countries can watch all games live on Premier Sports and Super Sport respectively).
Fans watching in Ireland, Europe (excluding UK), US and a number of other territories, URC TV will also offer a range of subscription packages including a Season Pass (all games), Ireland Pass (all games featuring Irish Clubs), Weekend Passes (all games within a round) and individual games passes.
For more information, or to sign up, visit www.urc.tv.
Source – Ulster Rugby
Sharks name squad of 34 for URC trip to Europe, Pienaar included.
Sean Everitt has picked two, and sometimes three, players in each position given the COVID-19 protocols around international travel and proper isolation and quarantine practices, as well as accounting for any injuries that may be picked up within this four match period.
Ruan Pienaar and Tian Meyer have both been included in the squad, having signed loan agreements with the Cell C Sharks from the Toyota Cheetahs, while there are welcome returns from injury for the lock pairing of Ruben van Heerden and Hyron Andrews.
Phepsi Buthelezi continues to lead a settled and experienced squad of players in the absence of Lukhanyo Am, who will take over the captaincy on his return from Springbok duty.
“The boys are up for the challenge, we have some experienced players who have played in the Pro16 before and have had a taste of European conditions, and we have coaching staff who have coached at the highest level; we’re all confident that we can do well overseas,” said Everitt.
“We’ve taken a young squad mixed with some older heads with experience and it will be exciting to see what these guys can deliver against opposition that we don’t see too often, nor play against.”
The Cell C Sharks kick off their campaign against Munster next Saturday, and in round two (Saturday 2 October) travel to Scotland to take on Glasgow Warriors before heading to Wales for rounds three and four, against the Ospreys (Friday 8 October) before rounding off the month-long tour against Cardiff (Saturday 16 October).
“The boys are excited about experiencing a new competition, the URC is a tough tournament that brings in new challenges and different opposition but the guys are up for the challenge after a very good Currie Cup and a good year,” added Everitt.
The Cell C Sharks touring squad:
Forwards: Dan Jooste, Dylan Richardson, Fez Mbatha, Gebrandt Grobler, Henco Venter, Hyron Andrews, James Venter, Kerron van Vuuren, Khutha Mchunu, Khwezi Mona, Le Roux Roets, Lourens Adriaanse, Mpilo Gumede, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Phepsi Buthelezi (captain), Reniel Hugo, Ruben van Heerden, Thembelani Bholi, Thomas du Toit, Wiehahn Herbst.
Backs: Anthony Volmink, Boeta Chamberlain, Curwin Bosch, Jeremy Ward, Marius Louw, Marnus Potgieter, Murray Koster, Ruan Pienaar, Rynhardt Jonker, Sanele Nohamba, Thaakir Abrahams, Tian Meyer, Werner Kok, Yaw Penxe.
Ulster sign World Cup winner Vermeulen
Ulster Rugby have today signed one of the biggest names in world rugby, Duane Vermeulen, who will join the club following the Autumn Tests in November.
Nicknamed the Thor of rugby, the 6ft 4in 18 stone Springbok will pull on the famous white jersey at Kingspan Stadium until 2023.
In 2019, Vermeulen was crowned Player of the Match as South Africa stormed their way to World Cup victory, lifting the Webb Ellis trophy.
The 35-year-old brings with him experience gained in both Super Rugby and the Top 14 and will join the United Rugby Championship in November once he has completed international duties during the Autumn Tests.
Head Coach, Dan McFarland, said:
“Duane is clearly a world class player who, as the current World Champions’ starting 8 and MVP from the last RWC Final, is set to bring depth and experience to our really talented group of back rowers.
“As well as being an undeniable talent on the pitch, I know Duane will play an important role going forward in strengthening the winning mindset we are building as a squad.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to recognise Bryn Cunningham’s brilliant work in orchestrating this deal from start to finish. It was always going to be a difficult ask to find a difference-making 8 but Bryn has definitely achieved that.”
Duane Vermeulen added:
“Ulster and myself had detailed discussions about the club’s values, expectations and the potential role I can play going forward. It appealed and resonated with me to a point where I got very excited and decided to commit myself to this Ulster journey. I cannot wait to become part of the Ulster family and to serve as best I can.”
Ulster Rugby has been actively seeking a world class addition to the squad following the planned deal with Leone Nakarawa falling through in June.
Source – Ulster Rugby
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