ULSTER: Six added into Academy rugby roster
This season's Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy squad will feature six fresh faces within the 19-strong roster.
This season’s Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy squad will feature six fresh faces within the 19-strong roster.
Joining the programme are Malone RFC star Matthew Agnew - who played for Ireland in the recent U20 World Cup - and the Ballymena Academy trio of fly-half Bruce Houston, centre Stewart Moore and back row Azur Allison, who captained Ireland U19s last year.
Double Schools’ Cup winner with RBAI, David McCann, will be another familiar face to followers of grassroots rugby.
The final place in the Academy is awarded to Iwan Hughes, a pace-laden Irish-qualified outside back who joins the Ulster set-up from Bristol.
Robert Baloucoune and Graham Curtis will also both be looking forward to their first full season in the Academy, after joining later in the season last year. Baloucoune, who developed his game at Portora Royal School and Enniskillen RFC was part of the Ireland team that won the Challenge Trophy at the Rugby World Cup Sevens last weekend, while scrum-half Graham Curtis will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of his brother Angus, who made his senior debut last season.
Four players who have all made notable impressions at PRO14 and Champions Cup level have been rewarded with upgraded senior contracts – Greg Jones, Adam McBurney, Jonny Stewart and Nick Timoney.
It has also been confirmed that Rory Butler, Peter Cooper, Alexander Clarke and John McCusker have all departed the full-time Academy programme to pursue other opportunities.
“It is always an exciting time of the year when we welcome in the new crop of young Academy players and, once again, we are delighted with the level of quality coming in,” said Kieran Campbell, head of the Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy. “Our player development pathway from U16 through to Academy is going from strength to strength, evidenced by 36 per cent of Ulster representation on Irish National Talent Squads and 46 Ulster senior caps won by Academy players last season.
“The quality of players and their level of application is driving competition within the pathway and the current crop are full of enthusiasm and keen to get stuck into the programme, so we’re all really looking forward to seeing how they progress over the season.”
ABBEY INSURANCE ULSTER RUGBY ACADEMY: Year 3 - Angus Curtis (Malone), Aaron Hall (Ballynahinch), Zack McCall (Ballynahinch), Marcus Rea (Ballymena); Year 2 - Robert Baloucoune (Ballymena), Graham Curtis (Malone), Matthew Dalton (Malone), Joe Dunleavy (Malone), James Hume (Banbridge), Michael Lowry (Banbridge), Eric O’Sullivan (Banbridge), Tom O’Toole (Ballynahinch), Jack Regan (Ballynahinch); Year 1 - Matthew Agnew (Malone), Azur Allison (Ballymena), Bruce Houston (Ballymena), Iwan Hughes (Ballynahinch), David McCann (Banbridge), Stewart Moore (Malone).