Ulster Rugby today confirmed the signings of talented young back row players Charlie Butterworth and Sean Reidy ahead of the 2014/15 season.
Charlie Butterworth, who can operate at openside or blindside flanker, joins on a one-year contract from Ulster Bank League outfit Landsdowne. The 23-year-old Wicklow native was a key player as the Dublin side won the Division 1A title in 2012/13.
Sean Reidy has signed a short term deal with the province after impressing with Counties Manukau Steelers in New Zealand.
The 25-year-old can play across the back row and is Irish-qualified through his grandfather who hailed from Castlegregory, County Kerry.
The additions will give Ulster even more depth in an already strong area. The province currently have three back row players on tour with Ireland in Argentina, while Roger Wilson played for a World XV against South Africa last weekend and they also have Nick Williams on the books.
And with young indigenous talent like Conor Joyce emerging too, it will provide the coaches with plenty of options for next season.
Butterworth, who played for the Ireland Club XV this year, is delighted to have signed his first professional contract, stating: "I can't wait to get started, it will be brilliant to be involved. Ulster are one of the best teams in Europe, if not the world, at the moment and it was a 'no-brainer' once David Humphreys offered me the contract.
"When I got the chance to go up and have a look at the facilities I was just really blown away. It's a top class stadium - everything is state of the art and I can't wait to start training."
Reidy is also relishing the prospect of joining the Ulster squad for their pre-season regime, admitting: "I had heard a lot about Ulster before I signed. They are a team with a lot of history and tradition but have done really well in their competitions recently and are a team on the up.
"It's a great opportunity for me to go over and learn from the coaches and try to develop my game."
There is a lot more than just bragging rights on the line at Thomond Park as despite being nicely positioned in the GUINNESS PRO12 table, third-placed Munster and Connacht, in sixth, both have teams below them ready to pounce if they lose again.
Late tries from Louis Ludik and Paul Marshall secured a 36-17 bonus point victory for Ulster over the plucky Cardiff Blues, as Neil Doak's men cut Glasgow Warriors' lead at the top of the GUINNESS PRO12 to just two points.
Speaking to Rob Murphy after Connacht's PRO12 victory over the Dragons, head coach Pat Lam said: "There are some things to learn from, but we're pleased to start with a win. When you consider nine in that starting group are under 23, it's good to see some of those talented guys get a chance - particularly the new ones."
Irish Rugby TV ventured west to cover the launch of Mazda's continued support of Connacht Rugby. We hear from new arrival and Mazda Ambassador Mils Muliaina, Kieran Marmion, Jake Heenan and former captain Gavin Duffy.
Looking forward to the new GUINNESS PRO12 season, Connacht captain John Muldoon said: "We've a lot of younger guys who have big years ahead of them and a few big name signings who will hopefully be able to fit into the system and work hard among the ethos of Connacht Rugby."
Irish Rugby TV was at the launch of the GUINNESS PRO12 and we caught up with Jamie Heaslip, Pat Lam, John Muldoon, Matt O'Connor and Rory Sheridan of Diageo as the new sponsor gets ready to kick off an exciting season.
Speaking during Connacht's training trip to Ballinrobe RFC, captain John Muldoon said: "It's great to see the jerseys and the people coming out to support us today. Long may it continue because we're not a Galway team, we're a Connacht team and that's what we want to push and that's why we come out on these days out."
Young hooker David Heffernan, who extended his current deal with Connacht in April, enjoyed a trip back to his native Mayo as Pat Lam's men held an open training session at Ballinrobe RFC earlier this week.
Rob Murphy caught up with Connacht head coach Pat Lam after their bonus point win at home to Benetton Treviso. The westerners have been in resurgent form of late, picking up three straight league victories and 14 points from a possible 15.