Young guns, Izuchukwu and Stewart, sign on with Ulster for next three years
22-year-old Cormac Izuchukwu and 21-year-old Tom Stewart, following their involvement in the recent victorious Emerging Ireland tour of South Africa, have both committed their futures to the province until at least 2026.
Making an impression since he arrived into the Ulster Rugby Academy set-up in 2020, 6ft 7” Izuchukwu is a talent that is hard to overlook, with the province keen to add to the ten caps he has already notched-up for the club with a new three-year contract.
With experience in the Ireland Sevens set-up, after receiving the call-up from David Nucifora, the second-rower made his Senior debut for Ulster in February 2021 against Glasgow Warriors, which he backed-up with his first start a month later in front of a home crowd in a 49-3 victory over Zebre.
Now back in action, after an injury last season kept him out of action for over a year, the Tullamore native said this on signing for Ulster:
“It’s so exciting to play for Ulster having come through the Academy, and even more so when there are young, world-class players at the club. We have our ambitions set on silverware, so I’m looking forward to what we can achieve together in the time ahead.”
Fellow Emerging Ireland teammate, Tom Stewart, will also be looking to add to his tally of Ulster and Ireland caps in the years ahead.
After showcasing his talent in the province’s recent victory at Thomond Park over Munster, a first for the club since 2014, with a try-scoring performance which also saw him top the URC stats for defenders beaten in Round 7, the sky is the limit for this talented hooker.
With success coming early to the former Belfast Royal Academy pupil, who was crowned Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Player of the Year in 2019, Stewart kicked-off this URC season in style with his first Senior start, a try, and a Player of the Match performance against another Interpro rival in Ulster’s Round 1 win over Connacht.
Speaking on what he sees in his future with Ulster, Stewart, said:
“It’s an honour to re-sign with my home province, and to push on with my professional career. I’m excited to be a part of what’s to come for Ulster Rugby in the next few years.”
With today’s news adding to the raft of young talent in his squad, Head Coach Dan McFarland, said this on the province’s succession planning:
“Cormac and Tom typify the young and exciting talent putting their hands-up to be selected at Ulster, and in an international setting. They both came through the Ulster Rugby Academy in a pipeline that feeds players of their quality directly into our Senior set-up.”
Images & Content – Ulster Rugby
Blair: “Collectively, we were just off it.”
The Italian side held on for a 24-17 win with Rhyno Smith’s late score the difference in a back-and-forth battle at Stadio Monigo.
“Yeah, it’s definitely disappointing,” said Blair. “We knew this was going to be a really tough game with the team that they picked.
“Benetton were excellent and managed the game really well after the red card. They were really smart. But I said to the players at half-time that the game was still in our hands.”
Benetton went down to 14 men in the 10th minute when debutant Matteo Minozzi was sent off for dangerous play after his boot – in the process of gathering a high ball – made contact with Wes Goosen’s face, leaving the winger with a nasty cut.
Edinburgh failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage however, with Benetton proving too shrewd in defence despite being a man down.
“We’ve seen it before, though, with red cards and how it can really galvanise a team. It brings emotion into it and gives them that backs-to-the-wall type of mentality,” continued Blair.
“But we’ve got to be better than that. We’ve got to see that as an opportunity. I think we waited and thought that (red card) was going to be the thing that won us game.
“But that wasn’t the case. It’s your physicality, your relentlessness nature of attack, persistence in defence, your smarts – that’s what wins you games. Collectively, we were just off it.
“I don’t think you can put it down to one thing. We always speak about what we want the perception of us to be from others.
“That perception is around the ruthless and clinical nature of our attack, as well as physicality in defence. We didn’t get that today.”
Edinburgh finish this block of fixtures without its Scotland internationalists having won two out of three road matches, with Saturday’s defeat to Benetton ending a three-match winning streak.
The capital side now turn their attention to Munster this coming Friday night (2 December, kick-off 7.35pm) in a match-up that sees Edinburgh return home to DAM Health Stadium for the first time in over a month.
“This period is an opportunity for the club. This group of players won away against Zebre and Cardiff, so there’s been some real positives.
“This was a tough game to come back to after the break for a few weeks. We were just off it in a couple of areas and that’s something we need to fix moving forward to next week.”
Timani returns to fitness as Cardiff name side to face Sharks
Lopeti Timani returns to the Cardiff line-up for the opening clash of their BKT United Rugby Championship double-header in South Africa.
With the Blue and Blacks kicking off their tour in Durban against Cell C Sharks on Sunday (KO 4.10pm), Tongan international Timani, who missed the home clash against Edinburgh last month, takes his place in the second row alongside Rory Thornton.
Captain Josh Turnbull will wear the number six jersey, with Thomas Young and James Botham completing the back row, while Rhys Carré, Liam Belcher and Dmitri Arhip form the front row.
Behind the pack Jarrod Evans and Lloyd Williams continue their partnership at half back. Rey Lee-Lo returns to the midfield for the first time since the away win over Scarlets, linking up with Max Llewellyn in the centre.
Finally, having made his URC debut in South Africa last season, Theo Cabango is again given the nod on the wing. Jason Harries occupies the opposite touchline, while Ben Thomas slots in at 15.
Cardiff director or rugby, Dai Young said: “We’re looking forward to testing ourselves against a quality team in the Sharks on Sunday.
“We were disappointed with our last game out here last season so we have plenty of motivation to put things right and we’ve shown we are heading in the right direction and we want to build upon that.
“It is important now that we keep that momentum and confidence and show we have learnt and developed from last season.
“We know what to expect from the Sharks and they are formidable at home but we are in a good place. We will need to perform at our best and if we do that then there is no reason why we cannot make a statement.”
Cardiff have named a six-two split on the bench, with youngsters Ellis Bevan and Mason Grady providing cover for the back-line.
Seb Davies is passed fit to feature, having been on the sidelines since mid-October, while there are further fire-power from the likes of Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski and James Ratti.
Cardiff will also take on Vodacom Bulls during their time in the Rainbow Nation, before turning their attention to Europe and the festive derbies.
Cardiff: Ben Thomas; Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Max Llewellyn, Theo Cabango; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Carré, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Lopeti Timani, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull (capt.), Thomas Young, James Botham
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski, Will Davies-King, Seb Davies, Gwilym Bradley, James Ratti, Ellis Bevan, Mason Grady
Unavailable for selection: Dillon Lewis, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau, Tomos Williams, Rhys Priestland, Owen Lane, Willis Halaholo, Josh Adams, Liam Williams, Matthew Morgan, Jacob Beetham.
Internationals return for Munster interpro at Thomond Park
Six Connacht players who were with the Ireland squad in November have come into the starting lineup for tomorrow’s interpro with Munster in Limerick (k/o 7.35pm).
Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Cian Prendergast, Caolin Blade and Bundee Aki are all named in the starting lineup, as the squad aim to make it three straight wins in the BKT URC.
Denis Buckley joins Heffernan and Bealham in the front row while Josh Murphy is selected alongside Thornbury in the second row. Prendergast is named at blindside flanker, with Conor Oliver at openside and Jarrad Butler at number 8.
Captain Jack Carty continues at out-half while Tom Farrell partners Aki in the centre. The side is completed by wingers Alex Wootton and Byron Ralston, and full-back John Porch.
On the bench there’s a notable return for Shane Delahunt, who has recovered from an 8-month injury layoff for a potential first appearance of the season. The management team have opted for a 6:2 split, meaning Niall Murray, Oisin Dowling and Paul Boyle could all be called upon.
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
“Everyone had ten days off after the Ospreys game which I think was needed for coaches and players. Now that we have everyone back it’s all eyes on Munster for the start of an important ten week block for us, and we’re well positioned for these games going forward.
Munster away at Thomond Park is never an easy task but I thought we were close last year and the previous year we won there. You can’t just rock up to Thomond and think you’re going to win, you’ve got to work your backside off and bring an element of physicality along with accuracy in what you are doing”
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Saturday 26th November, 19:35 @ Thomond Park
15. John Porch (66)
14. Byron Ralston (6)
13. Tom Farrell (83)
12. Bundee Aki (119)
11. Alex Wootton (37)
10. Jack Carty (184) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (154)
1. Denis Buckley (215)
2. Dave Heffernan (171)
3. Finlay Bealham (173)
4. Josh Murphy (5)
5. Gavin Thornbury (68)
6. Cian Prendergast (33)
7. Conor Oliver (47)
8. Jarrad Butler (100)
16. Shane Delahunt (117)
17. Peter Dooley (5)
18. Jack Aungier (38)
19. Niall Murray (40)
20. Oisín Dowling (31)
21. Kieran Marmion (215)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (57)
23. Paul Boyle (79)
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