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Ulster Ravens Gear Up For Cup Campaign

Ulster Ravens Gear Up For Cup Campaign

The excitement is building in the Ulster Ravens’ camp as they step up preparations for their opening British & Irish Cup match against the Bedford Blues at Ravenhill on Friday, November 20.

The Ulster Ravens are one of the three Irish teams taking part in the inaugural British & Irish Cup, which draws twelve teams from the English Championship, six sides from the Welsh Principality Premiership and three from Scotland.

With the first pool fixtures now just two weeks away, Ulster’s High Performance Director and Ravens team manager Gary Longwell is looking forward to the new competition.

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The Ulster Ravens have been pitted in Pool C along with Aberavon, the Bedford Blues, Llanelli, London Welsh and Moseley.

Longwell said: “As the draw suggests, we can expect some top class encounters at the very earliest stages of the competition.

“With teams from each nation spread across the four pools, we can expect tough competitive rugby.

“It all starts at Ravenhill with the very first game against the Bedford Blues, a very strong outfit. They are sitting in fourth place in the English Championship.

“This competition gives Ulster an opportunity to develop more players to achieve their full potential and enable them to compete at the very highest level.

“Ravens rugby is a level higher than the AIB League and these games will give our fringe players the chance to put in some big performances to attract the attention of Brian McLaughlin and the senior management team and ultimately stake a claim for a white jersey.”

The Ravens will take on Munster ‘A’ in a mouth-watering ‘A’ Interprovincial clash at Musgrave Park this Friday, hoping to bounce back from September’s 28-11 loss to the same oppositon at Shaw’s Bridge.

Four players who featured in Ulster’s matchday squad for last weekend’s Magners League derby trip to Munster – Timoci Nagusa, Ian Whitten, Ryan Caldwell and Tamaiti Horua – will start against Munster ‘A’ in Cork, while former Ireland Under-20 captain David Pollock will also make his return to competitive rugby after recovering from hip surgery.

Ulster Rugby Director of Operations David Humphreys said: “One of the major complaints over recent years from our younger players, or players who don’t feature on the first team, week in and week out, is the lack of any games between the top level and what’s available in the AIB League.

“This has now been recognised by the IRFU, and indeed the other home unions – this is exactly why the British & Irish Cup has been put in place.

“This competition now gives these players an opportunity to test themselves at a level higher than the AIB League, but not quite at the level of a Magners League or European Cup.

“In order to highlight the importance of these games, and to underpin their credibility, we felt it was very important that the training and build-up to the Ravens games would be very similar to that of the Magners League and European Cup.

“For that reason Neil Doak is head coach, Gary Longwell is team manager, while Brian and Jeremy (Davidson) will help out with the forwards. There will be full involvement from the senior management in all games.”

He added: “This week in particular against Munster ‘A’, we are looking for a very big improvement. The last time we met at Shaw’s Bridge we were disappointing.

“On Friday we are going to Musgrave Park with a much stronger team and we want to be competitive at all levels as we build for the game against Bedford on November 20.”

After the opening round, the Ravens will travel to Moseley for their second Pool C game on Friday, November 27, with the other pool stage fixtures scheduled for February and March.

ULSTER RAVENS (v Munster ‘A’): Jamie Smith; Timoci Nagusa, Jonny Shiells, Ian Whitten, Tommy Seymour; Niall O’Connor, Cillian Willis; Patrick McAllister, Declan Fitzpatrick, Adam Macklin, Neil McComb, Ryan Caldwell, Chris Napier, David Pollock, Tamaiti Horua.

Replacements: Ryan Fisher, Justin Fitzpatrick, John Burns, Alistair Birch, Ian Porter, Luke Marshall, Chris Cochrane.