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‘Steep Learning Curve’ For Ulster Youngsters

‘Steep Learning Curve’ For Ulster Youngsters

A youthful Ulster team fell to a heavy defeat in their opening pre-season match on Wednesday night. French club Bayonne made a strong start and finished up as 40-3 winners of the clash at Stade Jean Dauger.

Speaking afterwards, Ulster operations director David Humphreys said: “Given that we are missing so many of our regular matchday squad, either through international call-ups or injuries, this game has been a very good opportunity and a steep learning curve for our young players.

“They got a chance this evening to see what playing at this level is all about and while we’re disappointed with the scoreline, it was not wholly unexpected given where the two teams are in terms of their pre-season preparations.

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“The game was very set piece-orientated. In typically French fashion, Bayonne were very strong up front and mauled us a lot.

“But in comparison to our friendly last season against Harlequins which was very similar, this time we actually got some ball although being the first run-out we had too many turnovers which didn’t help and a number of their tries came from our mistakes.”

Lining out for their second friendly in five days, Bayonne opened in impressive fashion with 19 unanswered points before young out-half James McKinney, making his first senior appearance for Ulster, slotted over a penalty close to half-time.

A considerable crowd turned out to watch Bayonne’s final pre-season game before they host Toulouse in the first round of the Top 14 Championship in two weeks’ time, and they were not disappointed.

The hosts were on the scoreboard with a converted try after 15 minutes and soon added an unconverted effort, running the length of the field after Ulster had turned the ball over.

Bayonne stretched their lead with a seven-pointer in the 35th minute, following a neat grubber kick in behind the Ulster defence.

McKinney closed the gap to 19-3 at the break, but two converted tries in the third quarter of the game stretched Bayonne’s lead to 40 points.

With all 11 of Ulster’s travelling replacements used, the French outfit managed to tag on a final try to push the winning margin out to 37 points.

“No one likes to be sitting in the dressing room on the wrong end of a 40-point scoreline, but on the whole we’re certainly not panicking,” admitted Humphreys.

“We have two more friendlies and plenty of work ahead of us before our first competitive game against Glasgow in the RaboDirect PRO12.”

There appeared to be no injuries picked up by Ulster during their pre-season opener, with Humphreys adding: “As you’d expect from an early pre-season game we had some players with cramp, but other than a few bumps and bruises we appear to have come through the match unscathed.”

Brian McLaughlin’s men face two more friendly fixtures in the coming weeks, away to Neath on Friday, August 19 and at home to Harlequins on Friday, August 26.

BAYONNE: Joe Pietersen; Clement Lagain, Thibault Lacroix, Sam Gerber, Marvin O’Connor; Benjamin Boyet, Cedric Garcia; Aretz Iguiniz, Francois Da Ros, Renaud Boyoud, Robin Linde, Troy Flavell, Guillaume Bernad, Dwayne Haare, Marc Baget (capt).

Replacements used: David Roumieu, Pierre Philippe Lafond, Abdelatif Boutaty, Jean Joseph Marmouyet, Julien Audy, Clement Otazo, Lionel Mazars, Denis Avril, Francois Carillo, Thibault Visensang, Pepito Elhorga.

ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Conor Gaston, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Ricky Andrew; James McKinney, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Andi Kyriacou, Declan Fitzpatrick, Tim Barker, Neil McComb, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry (capt), Robbie Diack (capt).

Replacements used: Callum Black, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Jerry Cronin, John Burns, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Willie Faloon, Ian Porter, Paddy Jackson, Craig Gilroy.