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Bonus point win for Ulster in opener v Ospreys.

Double for Gilroy.

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Photo By John Dickson/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Ulster got their Guinness PRO14 campaign underway on Friday evening against the Ospreys in Belfast. Ulster gave new summer singings, Sam Carter, Matt Faddes and Jack McGrath their debuts but were forced into a late change with Jordi Murphy being withdrawn just before kick-off as a precaution for Jack Conan who has picked up a foot injury in Japan. Greg Jones came into the side starting at 8 with Clive Ross taking his spot on the bench.

Ospreys got the first points of the evening after an Ulster infringement allowed Luke Price to have an easy shot at goal. It wasn’t long until they were back on the scoreboard after a great try from Ospreys Full-Back Dan Evans. A quick snap from Aubrey to Price caught the Ulster inside defence out with Dan Evans running a great inside line bursting through the line untouched, still with a lot to do Evans feinted inside turning Lyttle’s shoulders before taking the outside, Lyttle caught Evans just shy of the line but the Ospreys veteran just did enough to touch down for the unconverted try.

Ulster were offered their first points of the evening after the Ospreys gave away a breakdown penalty following a strong carry and off-load from James Hume. Cooney pushed his attempt wide of the right post leaving the Ospreys ahead on the scoreboard by 8.

Ulster shortly made their way back into the Ospreys 22 with an attacking line-out providing a good platform for the Ulster backline to launch from. With the Ulster pack rumbling forward, the ball came loose but was fed to Ulster Out-Half who dinked the ball wide with a flat cross-field kick that was gathered after one bounce by returning winger Craig Gilroy. Cooney after missing a relatively simple penalty only minutes earlier made it a 7-pointer with the ball clearing the bar via the left upright narrowing the Ospreys lead to just 1 point. 7-8.

Ospreys increased their lead further with Luke Price landing a 50m penalty for the Welsh side after Greg Jones was judged to have held on in the contact.

With it being the first game of the season, handling errors were plentiful for both sides but Ulster certainly looked the more dangerous when in possession. Billie Burns successfully found Rob Lyttle with another beautiful dinked cross-field. Lyttle showed great strength and pace but perhaps had the option to feed new signing Matt Faddes with a simple 2 v 1 but opted to go himself only to be hauled down short of the line. Cooney had a dart from close range but was held up. Thankfully for Ulster, Ospreys winger Luke Morgan was off-side, yellow carded and the Ulster pack were given another bash at the try line off a driving maul. After several phases, Greg Jones got across the line for a converted try with Ulster taking a 14-11 lead.

Ospreys lost lock, James king to injury just prior to half time, Baker replaced him making his first competitive appearance in almost 2 years following a horror injury. 2 penalties in quick succession from Ulster gave the Ospreys territory and a chance to draw level. Luke Price again converting.

On the stroke of half-time Ulster regained the lead. John Cooney could easily have been judged to have played the Ospreys 9 but the ref waved play-on and a strong Ulster counter attack that included another strong carry from James Hume followed by a quick pick from Rob Lyttle saw Ulster stretch the Ospreys defence. Quick ball allowed the ball to come wide to Craig Gilroy who turned from scorer to provider with a skip pass to Matt Faddes who finished well in the corner on debut. Cooney nailed the touchline conversion to send Ulster in at half-time 21-14 up.

HT – Ulster 21 – 14 Ospreys.

The 2nd-half started off a little duller than the first, literally, with one set of floodlights failing. Cooney was on-hand shortly into the 2nd-half to extend the Ulster lead with another penalty and it wasn’t long until Ulster secured their bonus point.

Faddes and Lyttle linked up well on several occasions before Burns was given another opportunity to drop it onto the foot for another cross-field for Gilroy. This time he collected it on the full, scoring the bonus point try under the posts giving Cooney an easy conversion.

With the bonus point in the bag, Burns was withdrawn with the lively Michael Lowry coming on at Out-Half. Ulster continued to pin back the Ospreys with Lowry and Faddes putting the pull in behind the Ospreys defence on several occasions.

Ulster continued to dominate possession and territory throughout the second half but it wasn’t until the 70th minute before the scoreboard was moved again. Debutant Faddes picked up a loose kick and glided through the Osprey defence linking up again with the dangerous Lyttle. He chipped over the remaining defenders and as he was about to stretch out to touch down the bouncing ball, Ospreys winger, Morgan was adjudged to have played him without the ball by the TMO. Controversially Ulster were awarded a penalty try and Morgan was given his second yellow card of the game.

Ospreys finished the game by finally playing some rugby in the Ulster 22. After several phases they eventually got across the try line but after a TMO review it was adjudged that the line breaking pass was forward.

FT – Ulster 38 – 14 Ospreys.

A very positive opening performance from Ulster to kick off their season. New signings Carter, McGrath and Faddes all impressed, especially Faddes who combined well with Rob Lyttle on several occasions. Ulster fans will also be glad to see Craig Gilroy return to action after a long spell on the sidelines. Other impressive performances came from young centre, James Hume who looked dangerous in attack with several strong carries. Mike Lowry looked a threat every time he touched the ball and Sean Reidy put in a huge shift with 16 tackles. Rob Lyttle got special praise from Ulster Head coach Dan McFarland in the post-match press conference, not just for his continual attacking threat but also for his defensive display and his fight and willingness to keep the ball alive.

Man of the Match was awarded to Billie Burns. Despite only playing 50 minutes he had a huge influence in the game with 3 pinpoint cross-field kicks, 2 of which directly resulted in tries and another which ultimately led to a try being scored just a few phases later. He spoke with Premier Sports post-game.

Ulster head to South Africa on Tuesday for their next round of PRO14 Fixtures where they will face the Cheetahs and Southern Kings. McFarland is planning on taking a 28-man squad to South Africa which could include Springbok Marcel Coetzee who is on track to make a faster than expected return from injury. Coetzee suffered a syndesmosis injury and had surgery just 5 weeks ago but is hoping to be back in action within the next 2-3 weeks. Stuart McCloskey has picked up a ‘lower limb’ injury and will be doubtful to make the trip.


Champions Cup

Academy Trio Stepping Up & Contract News

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Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to announce that Academy trio Tony Butler, Ethan Coughlan and Mark Donnelly will be promoted to the senior squad in the summer.

We can also confirm that hooker Scott Buckley, who graduated from the Academy to the senior squad in 2022, has signed a contract extension.

Out-half Butler, scrum-half Coughlan (both 21) and 22-year-old prop Donnelly have all signed on for the next two seasons after impressing over their three years in the Academy.

Butler and Coughlan become the first Ennis RFC players to earn senior Munster contracts.

As previously confirmed, Academy lock Edwin Edogbo (21), who also came up through the Munster Youths system with Cobh Pirates, will graduate from the Academy to the senior squad on a two-year deal next season.

Buckley, Butler, Coughlan and Donnelly all made their Munster debuts in the famous Champions Cup win over Wasps in December 2021.

Tony Butler in action against Dragons.

Tony Butler in action against Dragons.

Ennis out-half Tony Butler has earned his first senior contract after a very productive three years in the Academy.

He has made six senior appearances to date, including two starts so far this season against Dragons and Connacht.

A Grand Slam winner with the Ireland U20s in 2022, Butler now plays his AIL rugby with Young Munster having previously lined out for Garryowen.

He captained Ennis at underage level, teaming up with Coughlan in the half-backs as they enjoyed success in the Munster U16 and U18 Clubs competitions.

Scrum-half Ethan Coughlan is enjoying an excellent campaign with three starts so far this year and eight senior appearances in total since joining the Academy.

He enjoyed great success alongside Butler with Ennis RFC at underage level before captaining the Ireland U18 Clubs team.

He also won a Grand Slam with the Ireland U20s in 2022 and plays his AIL rugby with Shannon.

Prop Mark Donnelly has already made nine senior appearances for Munster after coming up through the ranks at Midleton RFC, Midleton College and CBC.

He was a Pinergy Munster Schools Senior Cup winner with CBC in 2019 and featured for the Ireland U20s in the 2021 Six Nations.

He joined the Academy that summer before making his Munster debut along with Buckley, Butler and Coughlan against Wasps in December 2021

Along with his nine senior Munster appearances, Donnelly has also played regularly for Garryowen in the AIL over the past three years.

Mark Donnelly at Munster training.

Mark Donnelly at Munster training.

Hooker Scott Buckley (23) has signed a one-year contract having made 25 appearances for Munster to date.

A product of the Munster Rugby Academy, Buckley started out with Kinsale RFC before captaining CBC to the Pinergy Munster Schools Senior Cup in 2019.

He was Player of the Match against Wasps on his Munster debut and made nine appearances last season as Munster won the URC title.

A UCC clubman, he scored the match-winning try against Crusaders at Páirc Ui Chaoimh earlier this month.

Scott Buckley scores a try against Leinster in pre-season.

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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URC

Squad Update Ahead Of Zebre At Virgin Media Park

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The Munster squad are preparing at the HPC ahead of Friday night’s URC Round 11 clash against Zebre at Virgin Media Park (7.35pm).

There are a limited number of tickets available here.

25 players lined out in the thrilling encounter against Harlequins on Friday night, including eight Academy players and two young club players. Scroll down for match highlights.

The squad is boosted by the return of Tom Ahern, Craig Casey and Jeremy Loughman from international duty ahead of Friday night’s clash in Cork.

On the injury front, Academy back-row forward Ruadhán Quinn has completed the return to play protocols and is available for selection.

Following the game against Harlequins on Friday night, Academy duo Shay McCarthy (ankle) and Daniel Okeke (elbow) will go for scans and are unavailable this week.

Continuing to rehab: Simon Zebo (knee), Patrick Campbell (shoulder), John Hodnett (finger), Paddy Patterson (knee), Jack O’Donoghue (knee), Dave Kilcoyne (shoulder), Diarmuid Barron (foot), Jean Kleyn (eye/knee), Liam Coombes (shoulder), Roman Salanoa (knee).

Video | Harlequins v Munster Highlights

Tickets

URC Round 11: Friday, March 1

Munster v Zebre Parma, Virgin Media Park, 7.35pm; Buy final tickets here

U20s 6 Nations Round 5: Friday, March 15

Ireland v Scotland, Virgin Media Park, 7pm; Buy final tickets here

URC Round 13: Saturday, March 30

Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Thomond Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here

Women’s 6 Nations Round 3: Saturday, April 13

Ireland v Wales, Virgin Media Park, 4.45pm; 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

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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URC

Dan McFarland departs Ulster Rugby

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Dan McFarland departs Ulster Rugby

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Ulster Rugby and the IRFU can confirm that Dan McFarland will step down from his position as Head Coach.

After joining the club in 2018, McFarland has been the longest-serving Head Coach for the province in the professional era, with the club reliably securing play-off rugby in URC and EPCR competitions during his time at the helm, including reaching the PRO14 final in 2020.

Ulster Rugby CEO, Jonny Petrie, said:

“We would like to thank Dan for his determination in driving forward the professional squad over the past six seasons, and I would like to wish him and his family the best for the future on behalf of all at Ulster Rugby.”

The change to the Senior Men’s coaching set-up is with immediate effect, with Ireland U20s Head Coach, Richie Murphy, to link-up with the province as interim Head Coach until the end of this season following the Under-20s Six Nations. Bryn Cunningham, Head of Rugby Operations and Recruitment at Ulster Rugby, will also assume greater management responsibilities within the performance function during this time.

Assistant Coach, Dan Soper, will oversee operations next week ahead of Ulster facing Dragons at Kingspan Stadium in Round 11 of the BKT United Rugby Championship.

Petrie continued: “With Richie coming to Ulster in the coming weeks, ahead of the squad travelling to South Africa, our focus will be on consistently performing to the best of our abilities at this crucial time of the year.”

Images & Content – Ulster Rugby


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