A trip to Kingspan Stadium with the Barbarians three years ago left a lasting impression on Matt Faddes.
The Kiwi, capped three times by the All Blacks at Sevens level, was among the try scorers that night against Fiji, and has penned a two-year contract with Ulster with his debut set to be next Saturday’s pre season friendly against Glasgow.
“We had the opportunity to come here for a few days in 2016 and we just enjoyed the feel of it,” said Faddes.
“It’s a similar feel to home, a community-based side, it was a good fit, we toed and froed a bit and then we came to an agreement around Christmas time and we decided to make the move. It’s pretty exciting.
“It’s time for a fresh start or a new challenge. I’ve been four years in Super Rugby now and to keep developing as a player, to keep learning as a player on the field and off, I was just keen to learn.
“When we played here in 2016 there was sideways rain but the crowd was still out in force. It obviously doesn’t scare the supporters anyway, so that’s pretty cool.”
Another huge factor in Faddes coming to Ulster was defence coach Jared Payne.
“We’re friends of friends,” he explained. “He’s a mate of Dan Pryor’s who I played a lot with for the Highlanders.
“I grew up watching Jared play even though it wasn’t that long ago.
“He’s been huge for me, with us playing in similar sort of positions and similar sort of roles.
“It’s been huge to pick his brain and get the insight into how things work over here and the set-up. It’s been crucial really.”
Faddes gives the Ulster back line plenty of options being equally at home at centre, on the wing or at full back.
“Going through high school, I played a bit of ten, wing, 13 and you pick up those different skills and cues,” he said.
“Whenever I came onto the Otago scene, I was all over the show as well, it’s something you get used to, it can be a good thing, and it can be a bit of a curse.
“I prefer the midfield, I really enjoy wing and full-back as well, any game I can be involved in is preferable for me. Midfield, you’re engaged a bit more but I’ll play anywhere.”
The former Highlander is hoping Ulster’s brand of rugby will suit his Sevens skills
“Ulster’s a side that likes to use the ball,” he said.
“Coming from the southern hemisphere, or at least playing with a roof on your home stadium in Dunedin, it’s a brand we’re used to, it’s nice to come in and do similar stuff.”
After a long hard pre season Ulster have back to back friendlies with Glasgow starting at home to tune up for the Pro 14 opener against the Ospreys at the end of September and Faddes will come up against some familiar faces.
“It’s a lot of learning, coming into a new environment and with a lot of new ideas, so it’s about going out and putting them into place that makes things a bit more comfortable,” he said.
“The Pro 14 is normally on at a tough hour to watch, very early in the morning.
“Dave Rennie is coaching Glasgow so there’s obviously a New Zealand influence there.
“He’s been successful with the 20s and with the Chiefs, I’ve a mate going there from Otago so it’d be fun to play against him, so there’s a New Zealand influence there.”