Ricky and John Andrew all set for special night with Ulster

John Andrew during Ulster Rugby forwards pre-season training in Belfast
John Andrew during Ulster Rugby forwards pre-season training in Belfast

It will be a proud night in the Andrew household on Friday when brothers Ricky and John play for Ulster for the first time together.

Both former pupils of Ballymena Academy and products of the Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy full back Ricky (24) has played 18 times for the senior team since making his debut at Leinster in December 2011 while younger brother John will make his first appearance when he starts at hooker in the friendly against Exeter at the Kingspan Stadium (7.30pm).

The 21-year-old has had an impressive pre season and with Rory Best and Rob Herring being rested coach Les Kiss is putting his faith in the younger Andrew.

“We both starting which is a first and dad will be happy, we haven’t played together for a few months since Ballymena,” said Ricky.

“We’ll have the whole family up and the extended family are flying in from everywhere, it will be good to get John a game because he has been training well during pre season and he has worked his way in there and hopefully he can take a chance of two in there with his brother yelling at him.”

Big bother hasn’t been dishing out the advice as John makes the step up from All Ireland league level.

“I do think he is ready at this stage and he is no longer the wee brother. He’s a fairly big lad now and he has got a few good kilos on me now so I can’t say anything to him or he’ll knock my pan in,” joked Ricky.

“He even surprised me how well he has come on over pre-season, he’s just looking forward to it and chomping at the bit just to get out of there and get a bit of experience.

“He is taking all of Rory’s experience of him, he’s getting a question in Rory’s ear every time he can and see what he can learn from him because Rory is one of the best hookers in the world and that is who you want to be learning off.”

The skills were honed at an early age.

“The dream was to play for Ulster when out in the garden and we still find ourselves out in the garden with the older brother (Joel) when we get the chance, he was always rugby mad when we were younger I had a bit more of a football background, we still live together and it will be interesting and should be a good laugh,” added Ricky.

Ulster are set to use 34 players and will use both the home and away changing rooms while Exeter will be in the ones at the Aquinas end.

As well as John Andrew the likes of Jacob Stockdale, Jack Owens and Sean O’Hagan will all make their debuts as Ulster give an opportunity to the next generation.

“They are special players, Luke Marshall and myself would have watched them play a lot of games in the Schools’ Cup and Jack and Jacob were standout players.

“I know from the U20’s last year Sean stood out and did a good job for Connacht, so it’s good to have a bit of youth in there,” said Ricky.

The fullback is looking to build on his success of last season which earned him a new contract.

“I’m here on a one year contract for this season andhopefully I can push ahead and get some games early in the season, hopefully push ahead, make a mark, get another contract and see how things go from there.

“Last season went well. I got a number of games building on from the previous season and it is just a matter of keeping that momentum going and keep building experience.

“It’s all about confidence in the back three. When you are sitting under the high ball and the boy is flying at you, you have so much experience around you and that brings you on in training and I’ve always said the likes of Tommy (Bowe), Jared (Payne) and Trimby (Andrew Trimble) are the main men in there and they really help you out and teach you all the things you need to know.

“Then it’s whether you have the self confidence to take it into games.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get a good start, we have all been training hard and hopefully things will go well on Friday and we can build from there.

Andrew will come up against a few familiar faces against the Chiefs and admits the result won’t be the be all and end all.

“It’s our first game after a lot of restructuring in our play, we’re coming out with a lot of new plays and some inexperience, but people like me will be expected to step up.”

They have an impressive rooster and they had an impressive win over Cardiff last week, it will be a test but that is what you want, you don’t want to come out and put 40 points on a team and get nothing out of it.”

“We want to win but at the same time we want to play and try and get some evidence of patterns and formations and if it doesn’t work it’s a good chance to learn.”

“Exeter are a very strong team and have a Ian Whitten and Gareth Steenson there.

“I have played with Ian plenty of times whenever he was here, he’s a good player and good craic it will be good to see him afterwards, the pair of them have been doing fantastic over there and they are strong players.”