Two of Ulster’s most exciting and dynamic wing talents have today pledged their futures to the province alongside the experienced heads of Ireland cap, Luke Marshall, and lock, Alan O’Connor.
Winger, Baloucoune, has continually impressed with his agile performances for the Ulster men which have already earned him a call-up to the Ireland development squad since his debut in October 2018 against Dragons.
With a return from injury on the horizon, it’s not long before fans will once again be able witness the familiar sight of the Enniskillen native’s charge for the try line. Of his two-year extension, Baloucoune, said:
“I’m excited to be part of this Ulster team, and what we can strive to achieve for in the near future. I’d like to thank the coaching staff and physios who have helped me through my long-term injury this season and I can’t wait to be back playing again.”
Ulster Rugby Head Coach, Dan McFarland, said:
“Rob has been in sensational form for us and has proven himself to be a prolific try-scorer as well as a superb defender. He’s been unlucky with injury this season, but he is not far off making his return which we’re all looking forward to.”
Ballymena-born, Luke Marshall, who has made 144 appearances for Ulster to date, is also set to remain at Kingspan Stadium until at least June 2023. The centre who is known as a combative, strong-running midfielder, has consistently performed for the province since joining the Ulster Academy in 2009. On the announcement of his extension, Marshall, said:
“I am happy to be staying on with Ulster as I feel we are building towards something special – especially with such an exciting young squad. It is a privilege to continue to represent my home province – and since my wife gave birth to our son three months ago, I am hopeful that he will be able to come and watch me play at Kingspan Stadium in the next couple of years.”
McFarland added: “Luke is one of our longest-serving players and brings an excellent ability to read the game and organise defences. I’m delighted that he’s committed to Ulster for a further two seasons, and we look forward to also seeing him back from injury soon.”
Lock, Alan O’Connor, is known both on and off the pitch for his leadership abilities with the 28-year-old recently captaining the province in the landmark win over Connacht at the Sportsground in December. Speaking of his contract renewal, O’Connor, said:
“I’m delighted to have signed on with Ulster for another two years. I’m really looking forward to continuing this journey with a great group of lads – it’s been a great experience so far. We, as a team, have grown so much over the last couple of years and we will keep growing and improving – to be part of that is very exciting.”
McFarland added: “Al has been a vital member of our squad for some time now. He is a player who epitomises the competitiveness and bite we expect at Ulster. It is because of this he has earned the honour of captaining the team on many occasions.”
Completing today’s announcements is 20-year-old Aaron Sexton who, since entering the Ulster Academy system in the summer of 2019, has already made his mark – most recently through his involvement in the win against the Leinster ‘A’ side, which saw Sexton contribute two match-defining tries.
The young player from Bangor will spend one year as a Development player, before being upgraded to a Senior Professional contract for the following season. Of the news, Sexton, said:
“It means a lot to me reaching this next step in my career, and I can’t thank everyone enough who helped get me to where I am. I’m really looking forward to working hard in the months ahead having had my first taste of senior rugby this year.”
On the last of the signings to be announced today, Dan McFarland, said: “Aaron has put in some really encouraging performances for Ulster in recent Inter-provincial ‘A’ games and IRFU Academy Sevens tournaments by demonstrating his next level speed and try-scoring ability. He earned himself an opportunity at senior level against Edinburgh, which we hope is the first of many senior appearances for Aaron in the future.”
Squad Update | Munster Prepare For Bayonne At Thomond
The Munster squad are preparing at the HPC ahead of Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup opener against Bayonne at Thomond Park (5.30pm).
Buy match tickets here.
Jean Kleyn will be unavailable until the New Year due to an eye injury suffered in the Leinster match. He attended for a specialist review last Tuesday and Wednesday and will have further follow-up before Christmas.
Jack Daly (ankle) and Liam Coombes (shoulder) both underwent surgery last week and will begin rehabilitation under the medical department.
There is good news for Patrick Campbell (ankle) as he has returned to team training.
Jack O’Donoghue (ankle) will also return to training this week.
Simon Zebo (knee) will continue to rehabilitate early this week.
The availability of Campbell, O’Donoghue and Zebo will be determined later in the week.
Peter O’Mahony (shoulder) is improving but will remain unavailable for the Bayonne clash.
Continuing to rehab: Jack Daly (ankle), Peter O’Mahony (shoulder), Liam Coombes (shoulder), RG Snyman (chest/shoulder), Joey Carbery (wrist), Roman Salanoa (knee), Mike Haley (hip), Cian Hurley (ankle/achilles), Niall Scannell (groin).
There were 11 Munster players in AIL action for their clubs at the weekend.
In Division 1A, Fionn Gibbons, Chris Moore and Keynan Knox helped Young Munster to a win over City of Armagh with Gibbons among the tries.
Ethan Coughlan and Daniel Okeke were in action for Shannon as they were beaten away to Terenure College.
In Division 1B, Jack Oliver, George Hadden and Colm Hogan helped Garryowen beat Blackrock College with Hogan scoring a try on his debut for the club. Oliver also kicked three conversions and two penalties.
Jack O’Sullivan and Ben O’Connor featured for UCC as they were narrowly beaten by Old Wesley.
In Evan O’Connell helped UL Bohemians to a draw against MU Barnhall.
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Peter O’Mahony Steps Down After Over 10 Years As Munster Captain
Munster Rugby can confirm that Peter O’Mahony has made the decision to step down as squad captain after over 10 years leading the province.
O’Mahony first captained Munster in a competitive game on September 3, 2011 at the age of 21. It was just his 12th appearance for the province and he led the side for the opening five games of that season.
He took over the Munster captaincy on a permanent basis ahead of the 2013/14 season following the departure of Doug Howlett.
The 2022/23 season was O’Mahony’s 10th year as squad captain and ended with glory in Cape Town as he lifted the URC title with Keith Earls after a thrilling win over the Stormers.
Along with captaining Munster, he has also led Ireland and the British & Irish Lions.
Head Coach Graham Rowntree and the coaching team will select a new squad captain in due course.
Peter O’Mahony said: “Captaining Munster has been a dream come true for me.
“I grew up watching and idolising the Munster team and in particular the people who were leading the team.
“People like Mick Galwey, Jim Williams then on to the likes of ROG and Paul, who I had the privilege of playing with at the start of my career.
“I can remember the day I was asked to be captain like it was yesterday and discussing it with Paul to get his approval.
“From that day to this it’s been an utter privilege and has never been something I’ve taken for granted.
“However, having given a huge amount of thought to it, I think it is the right time to step back from the role to share my experiences and give the same guidance that I received when I took on the role.
“What an unbelievable honour it has been…and will always continue to be.”
Paying tribute to O’Mahony’s over 10 years as captain, Rowntree said: “You couldn’t pick a better leader than Pete and he has been a fantastic captain for this club.
“To lead Munster from such a young age and for so many years speaks volumes of his ability as a player on the pitch and a person off it.
“He commands huge respect and will still be a massive leader within the group. To have someone of Pete’s experience on hand to help us with the succession process is invaluable.
“We have a strong leadership group within the squad and will confirm a new squad captain in due course.”
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Squad Update | Munster Prepare For Leinster In Dublin
The Munster squad are preparing at the HPC ahead of Saturday’s URC round 6 clash against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium (6.30pm, live on TG4).
Our next home game is against Glasgow Warriors at Musgrave Park on Friday, December 1 (7.35pm). Buy match tickets here.
Following Saturday’s win over Stormers, Peter O’Mahony (shoulder) and Jack O’Donoghue (ankle) will both go for scans on their respective injuries.
Diarmuid Barron has progressed through the return to play protocols and will be available for selection.
Continuing to rehab: Liam Coombes (shoulder), RG Snyman (chest/shoulder), Joey Carbery (wrist), Patrick Campbell (ankle), Roman Salanoa (knee), Mike Haley (hip), Cian Hurley (ankle/achilles), Niall Scannell (groin).
On the AIL front, there were nine Munster players in action for their clubs at the weekend.
In Division 1A, Keynan Knox and Fionn Gibbons helped Young Munster to a win over Terenure College at Tom Clifford Park.
Ethan Coughlan and Daniel Okeke were in action for Shannon as they were beaten by Lansdowne in Dublin.
In Division 1B, Jack Oliver and George Hadden lined out for Garryowen as they were beaten by St Mary’s College with Oliver kicking a conversion and a penalty.
Jack O’Sullivan was a try-scorer for UCC with Ben O’Connor also starting as they beat Queen’s University at the Mardyke.
In Division 1B, Evan O’Connell helped UL Bohemian to a 16-12 victory over Ballymena at Annacotty.
URC Round 7: Friday, December 1
Munster v Glasgow Warriors, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
Champions Cup Round 1: Saturday, December 9
Munster Rugby v Bayonne, Thomond Park, 5.30pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 8: Tuesday, December 26
Munster v Leinster, Thomond Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
Champions Cup Round 4: Saturday, January 20
Munster Rugby v Northampton Saints, Thomond Park, 5.30pm; Buy tickets here
Saturday, February 3
Munster Rugby v Crusaders, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 5pm; Buy final tickets here
URC Round 11: Friday, March 1
Munster v Zebre Parma, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 13: Saturday, March 30
Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Thomond Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 16: Saturday, May 11
Munster v Connacht, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 18: Saturday, June 1
Munster v Ulster, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here
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