Ulster head coach Dan McFarland says squad developing nicely!

Lansdowne's David O'Connor
Lansdowne's David O'Connor
Share this article

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland believes retaining home grown talent is important to the development of the squad.

Confirming a senior playing squad of 37 players on Monday, with seven development players included.

Of the 44-man squad, 41 are Irish qualified and 27 have progressed through Ulster’s Academy.

The newest name on the list is however a former Leinster Academy player with second row Allan O’Connor’s younger brother, David the latest recruit.

The 24-year-old Lansdowne lock is Ulster’s sixth new signing alongside Jack McGrath, Sam Carter, Matt Faddes, Bill Johnston and Gareth Milasinovich.

McFarland, said: “Having a large number of indigenous young players in the squad is incredibly important for the future of Ulster Rugby.

“Kieran Campbell and his staff in the Academy deserve a lot of credit for their work in bringing through the next generation of talent to the senior squad, which was so evident last season.

“Our clubs and schools also play a huge part in the development pathway of our young players, providing the basis for crucial early technical and motivational growth.

“It is important that we retain the best of our home-grown talent, many of whom receive attractive offers from other clubs, and we have managed to do that once again with some key re-signings.

“Combined with this core group of Ulster men is the vital input of our overseas players. Having players like Marcell Coetzee in the group has delivered tangible benefits both on and off the field, and I’m confident that Sam Carter and Matt Faddes will also have big impacts.

“We will also welcome the experience and quality of Jack McGrath, and the potential of Gareth Milasinovich, Bill Johnston and David O’Connor into the squad, and I’m looking forward to working with them all.

“The squad is developing nicely. We need to have quality throughout the squad; sometimes that’s down to recruitment, a lot of the time it’s down to bringing the young guys through.

“Getting a healthy mixture of the two is really important.”

The majority of the squad will commence pre-season training on Monday.

Last week Ulster learned they would face Clermont, Harlequins and Bath in the Heineken European Champions Cup.

There are back-to-back pre-season friendlies lined up against Glasgow on September 7 and 14 ahead of the start of the Guinness PRO14 campaign which is not until the end of September this season due to the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Academy squad has also been confirmed with five new admissions.

Flying back three sensation Aaron Sexton will make the full time switch from athletics to rugby, having recently broken the Irish Schools records for both the 100 and 200 metres.

Sexton is also a familiar name in rugby circles, as he was Ulster ‘A’s top try scorer in last year’s Celtic Cup, touching down seven times in six games.

The Bangor Grammar pupil also featured in Ulster’s pre-season friendly versus Gloucester and was the 2017 Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Player of the Year.

Another exciting back three prospect, Conor Rankin, will join the Academy from Campbell College, where he was a pivotal figure in the side that won the 2018 Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup.

Recently awarded Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Player of the Year Tom Stewart is joins the Academy following a stellar schools career where the Belfast Royal Academy hooker captained Ulster at U18 level.

Highly rated Irish qualified centre Hayden Hyde will make the move from English Premiership side Harlequins to Ulster, following in the footsteps of Kieran Treadwell and Sam Arnold. Hyde has already represented Ireland at U18 and U19 level.

Following a year in the sub-Academy and a season’s experience in the All Ireland League with Banbridge RFC, prop Callum Reid has been awarded a full time place in the Academy.

Reid represented Ulster ‘A’ in the Celtic Cup last year and was part of the Ireland U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winning team.