Following a hugely positive weekend for Ulster Rugby, during which the senior and ‘A’ teams both registered bonus point wins, the province’s director of rugby Les Kiss and operations director Bryn Cunningham are very happy with the progress that has been made over the last six weeks.
Less than 24 hours after Ulster toppled four-time European champions Toulouse, Alex Codling’s impressive Ulster ‘A’ team overcame a Scarlets Premiership Select to put them just one point behind Bristol in Pool 2 of the British & Irish Cup.
Following the 38-0 Champions Cup win over Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium, the first time the French giants had ever been held scoreless in a European match, Kiss said: “There was a lot to like about the performance. There were some fine individual performances and more importantly, the team played with ambition, heart and passion.
“Ruan (Pienaar) played extremely well and his influence is having a major impact on the development and confidence of Paddy (Jackson), Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall. You can see the benefit across the team with homegrown players like Kyle McCall impressing again as part of a solid set piece performance by the forwards.
“What made the weekend even more pleasing for me was that the Ulster ‘A’ squad backed it up with a bonus point win of their own. The injuries in the senior squad have been well documented but that obviously has a knock on effect for the ‘A’ team and they really produced the goods for us.”
Bryn Cunningham was also encouraged by what he saw, stating: “Les has given opportunities to young players like Kyle McCall and Stephen Mulholland, and they have really stepped up to the plate. Guys like that are a key part of our succession planning over the next number of years.
“We are working hard to develop indigenous players and Kieran Campbell and his staff are doing some great work with the Hughes Insurance Academy, the sub-Academy and the regional development squads. Over the next two to five years I’m sure we’ll see some of those players coming through in key positions.
“If you look at the current Academy group we have a number of talented props – Peter Cooper, Ross Kane, Michael Lagan and Craig Trenier, along with development player Jonny Simpson. They all have big futures and they can take great confidence from how Kyle has performed over the past five or six weeks.
“Currently, in the back row we have guys like Stephen (Mulholland), Frankie Taggart, Lorcan Dow, Conor Joyce and Nick Timoney, who will be pushing for more game-time over the coming months.”
Kiss concluded: “While the results at the weekend were really encouraging, it’s important that we continue to focus on what we’re building long-term.”