There were mixed emotions for Head Coach Dan McFarland as Ulster secured five points against the Southern Kings on Saturday night at the Kingspan Stadium.
The win puts Ulster into second place behind Leinster in Conference B, however the loss of Louis Ludik, Marty Moore and Darren Cave adds to the growing list of injury woes ahead of Saturday’s huge European Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Leinster.
Saturday’s fresh injuries leave Ulster depleted in midfield, with Luke Marshall still not fully fit following an ACL injury and James Hume ruled out after breaking his ankle in training last week.
“I have got to wait and see but you saw the same as me and it did not look good,” said McFarland of fullback Louis Ludik’s injury after he was helped off the pitch by the medical team just nine minutes into the game.Embed from Getty Images
“It’s still too early to tell but we will have to assess the injuries and see how Louis is and how Darren is. Obviously James (Hume) is out. We’ll have a look at Lukey and see how he’s going on.”
McFarland joked he may have to call upon former Ireland centre and Ulster’s defence coach, Jared Payne, to fill the gap in midfield.
“Jared Payne’s wondering whether he should play, but we’re saying definitely not – you’ve had your chance,” laughed McFarland.
On a more positive note, McFarland praised Ulster number eight, Marcell Coetzee on his return to action from a hamstring injury sustained in the last European outing against the Leicester Tigers.
“It was good to have him back and he went well tonight. Marcell’s been a strong performer for us this year and it was disappointing for him and us that he hasn’t been able to play this last while but it was great to see him back out there and at his bullish self.”
Despite some superb individual performances, McFarland reflected on his sides rustiness and tendency to turn the ball over or cough it up at crucial moments. Indeed, although the win was somewhat spluttering, Ulster ran in 5 tries tuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle, Robert Baloucoune, Marcell Coetzee and John Andrew.
The front row did well – Herring was dynamic in his ball carrying and was solid at the set-piece. Andy Warwick put in a serious shift, tackling well can carrying over the hard yards. It was reassuring too, to see Herbst come on at loose-head and create issues for the King’s scrum.
Rob Lyttle looked dangerous in attack, squeezing his way through the King’s defence on a number of occasions – enough to earn him the man of the match award. Michael Lowry and Bobby Baloucoune are improving with every game they play and hardly put a foot wrong. Stuart McCloskey will have divided opinion – his size and power were a definite asset to Ulster however, his once frustrating habit of forcing offloads has now seemingly turned into an inability to pass. He took his try remarkably well however, and remains an important focal point of Ulster’s attack, often drawing in several defenders.Embed from Getty Images
Saturday’s win completes an impressive run in the PRO14 for Ulster, taking 21 points from a possible 25. Ulster now have three games remaining in the PRO14 with away games against Glasgow and Edinburgh, and a home fixture with Leinster.
“In the forefront of our minds is that we have to go to Glasgow and Edinburgh with their Scottish internationals back and we have the best team in Europe in the last game of the season, so we’re under no illusions to the size of the task ahead of us,” said McFarland.
“But we’ve put ourselves into the position that we said we wanted to be in.”
Of course, Ulster’s focus will now change swiftly to Saturday’s Champion’s Cup quarter-final clash with Leinster at the Aviva stadium against defending champions Leinster. Although it is hoped Ulster’s fourth consecutive PRO14 win will give Ulster significant momentum ahead of this weekend, McFarland notes that, while Leinster rested a number of key players in their game against Edinburgh this weekend, that was a luxury Ulster could not afford.
“I think it is a question of the context,” he said. “Leinster are top, so in the context of the conference itself it does not matter even if it obviously matters to them that they lost in Edinburgh and they’ll be disappointed in that. They were able to rest a lot of their players.”
“We are in a different position, we are in a ridiculously difficult conference where there is a fight going on and we needed to make sure that we got the maximum points. We do not have as big a squad, guys step up and they play.”
Despite some excellent performances this season, particularly in the Champions Cup competition, McFarland is confident Ulster have a lot more to offer. Indeed, Ulster will now focus their preparation on producing a memorable performance on Saturday against Leinster, who are considered by many to be strong favourites.
“We have put in some good performances in Europe already, but recently we have not strung together a really good 80 minutes yet. In order to win next week we will. There is literally no doubt about that.”
“We will have to be at our best,” added McFarland.
Indeed, Ulster will require an exceptional performance to challenge this great Leinster side. It is worth bearing in mind Leinster have injury problems of their own – Robbie Henshaw, Devin Toner and Josh van der Flier are all expected absent and several players will still be reeling from Ireland’s six nations capitulation.
For Ulster, finding a centre partner for Stuart McCloskey will be crucial as
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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