10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Chris Webster: Training has gone really well over the summer - the squad first got together for a mini camp at Easter then we left the boys to their own devices as the majority of them had to sit their A-Level exams and we wanted them to focus their efforts on getting good results. Training started again with four Saturday sessions in June where we focused on conditioning and setting the scene for what was to come ahead.
We then took a further three weeks off until the middle of July and since then have been training 3 times a week to prepare for the Interpros. In preparation for the games we have played against the Ulster Schools Under-18 and Under-19 sides as well as two fixtures against the Ulster Under 20s.
IR: What are the expectations in the camp for the championship? Will a win first time out against Leinster be vital?
CW: Obviously we are going out on Saturday with the intention to win the game and we believe that we have the squad that can do just that if the guys play to their potential. We also realise though that in a series like this you never know what to expect from the other provinces, and teams can change dramatically year to year so I think that after Saturday's game we will have a better idea of how we might go. Having two games at home this year we would be setting our stall out to win those, but at this stage it is very much one game at a time.
IR: Those friendly games against the Ulster U-20s and Schools team, what did you take from them? Any players stand out for you in the games and if you were picking one or two players for spectators to look out for during the championship who would they be?
CW: The friendly games allowed us to make up our minds on a number of key selection issues. We have trained throughout the summer with a fairly large panel and it has been through these games that we have been able to select what we feel is the best squad for this game (against Leinster).
Competition across the squad has been intense but two areas in particular stand out - the back row and midfield. Two players to watch out for would be blindside flanker Jamie Lusk - a powerful runner with the ball, who gets through an enormous amount of work throughout the game - and inside centre Peter Elliott who, again, is a fast elusive runner with the ball and defensively excellent.
IR: Leinster will obviously be tough to beat away from home but how will you approach the game and where do you see it being won and lost?
CW: Like most games we believe that the game will be won or lost up front. Whichever team can dominate the possession and field position will obviously have the upper hand. We have to concentrate on winning good quality ball for our backs to use and ensure that we can maintain that possession over a number of phases. Obviously defence plays a major part in any game and we will be reminding the guys that they need to maintain concentration for the whole game.
IR: Are there many players in your squad who have been capped previously at provincial and international levels?
CW: A number of the guys have played for Ulster Schools, maybe 11 or so. Michael Cromie, David Nicholson and David McIlwaine have played for Ulster Youths, McIlwaine has also been capped for Ireland Youths and Sam Bell has played for the Ireland Schools team.
IR: How have you found working alongside Neil Doak, the former Ulster scrum half who is the current Ulster U-19 (Clubs) coach?
CW: Whilst I have known Neil for a number of years on a personal and professional level, this is the first time that I have worked alongside him in a representative team enviornment. I have really enjoyed working alongside both him and Jarrett Truscott who is our assistant coach.
Neil's passion for the game is obvious and his desire for the boys to play to their fullest potential ensures that the players will be well prepared for what lies ahead. Obviously being an ex-professional rugby player and the current Ulster Elite Player Development Officer allows him to pass on a wealth of knolwedge and experience to the boys which they will hopefully find invaluable, not only in this series but as they progress as rugby players.