Ulster Rugby’s long-term succession planning at out-half received a boost today as it was announced that Brett Herron will be joining the province from Bath and that Ireland Under-20 star Johnny McPhillips has been upgraded to a development contract.
A product of the prestigious rugby school, Wellington College, Brett Herron was earmarked as one of their finest rugby-playing pupils. He made his Bath United debut in 2014 and he has dazzled the Rec with his play-making skills.
The 20-year-old Irish-qualified out-half is a former England Under-18 international and his progress has been keenly observed by national selectors at all levels.
Johnny McPhillips, who turned 19 last month, has thrived in his first year in the Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy under the tutelage of Kieran Campbell, during which he featured heavily for Queen’s University and the Ulster ‘A’ team. His performances were rewarded with a call-up to the Ireland U-20 squad for their U-20 Six Nations campaign and he started all five matches in the number 10 jersey.
Ulster’s director of rugby Les Kiss welcomed the signings, saying: “We are delighted to bring Brett into the Ulster environment. He has undoubted potential, with an array of skills and real line-breaking ability, which we aim to explore further.
“With the depth of International-class out-halves at Bath, Brett’s opportunities have been limited to the ‘A’ team and Rosslyn Park, where he has excelled. An injury curtailed his almost certain starting berth for England in the Under-20 World Cup.
“Johnny McPhillips enjoyed a successful stint with the Ireland U-20s in this season’s U-20 Six Nations and that experience will stand him in good stead. He is mature well beyond his years and he has the right temperament and ability to succeed at the highest level. He will undoubtedly push through next season and stake a claim for senior squad involvement.
“We would fully expect Paddy Jackson to be involved with Ireland squads in the coming years so the knock-on effect will be the requirement for Ulster to produce more Irish-qualified options at 10. Brett and Johnny are definitely two very exciting prospects.”
Ulster’s operations director Bryn Cunningham added: “Having Paddy in situ and knowing Ian Humphreys wouldn’t be with us next season, it was imperative to scour the market to unearth some Irish-qualified talent.
“With Brett and Johnny now available to us next season, and with Andrew Magrath from Ballymena progressing well in our Academy, we will have a strong roster of talented young out-halves who will all push each other hard, thus providing a really competitive environment which is essential for their development.
“Pete Nelson is recovering from his very unfortunate ankle injury, while we are delighted to see the return from injury of Stuart Olding. Primarily an outside back and centre respectively, Pete and Stuart give us more genuine options as real attacking threats in the 10 channel. We will also have Sam Windsor, who provides another option at 12/10.”