Back rower Clive Ross, lock Alan O’Connor, and scrum half Dave Shanahan have all signed contract extensions that will keep them at Ulster until the summer of 2019, while hooker John Andrew has agreed terms to stay with the province until 2020.
John Andrew (23) is an athletic hooker who has graduated from the Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy into the senior ranks. The Ballymena man made his senior debut for Ulster in December 2015 against Connacht and has gone on to collect 26 caps for the province.
This season, Andrew has emerged as a leader of the Ulster ‘A’ team, sponsored by CD Group, and he has captained the side through their most successful campaign in recent years.
Clive Ross, a native of Cork, joined Ulster in 2014, having nurtured his game in the Ulster Bank League with Lansdowne. Despite not being exposed to the Academy system, the 27-year-old has relished his opportunity in professional rugby, making 52 appearances for Ulster over the past three seasons.
The back rower has been a mainstay in the Ulster squad this season, featuring in 23 of the 26 games to date, and also picking up his first try in the interprovincial victory over Connacht in December.
Dublin-born Alan O’Connor made the switch to the Ulster Academy from Leinster in 2012, and made his senior debut the same year against his former province. A member of Ireland’s 2012 Junior World Championship side, O’Connor has made significant physical developments and is a considerable presence both in the set piece and in the loose. The 24-year-old lock has made 37 appearances for Ulster.
Dave Shanahan, a product of Belvedere College, progressed through the age-grade system before joining the Ulster Academy, where he impressed with a number of standout performances. The 23-year-old has made 13 senior appearances for Ulster, including starts in January’s Champions Cup pool matches against Exeter Chiefs and Bordeaux-Begles.
Commenting on the announcement of the contract extensions, Ulster’s director of rugby Les Kiss said: “We are delighted that the four boys have committed their immediate future to Ulster. As we continue to build our playing roster it is critical that we have depth across these key positions, so this is another important piece of business for us.
“John has worked his way through the development system here at Ulster and has been showing his full potential since he moved on to a full-time contract last year. He’s a really intelligent player who has benefited greatly from working alongside the likes of Rory (Best) and Rob (Herring), not just in his skill development, but also in his leadership qualities which he has displayed for Ulster ‘A’ this season.
“Clive and Alan are maturing into quality players and have been outstanding for us this season. Both lads put in a huge amount of work during the off-season and that transferred into a great campaign by both of them.
“Dave is another young guy who has shown over the past couple of seasons that he is more than capable of handling himself on the senior stage when called upon. As a young scrum half, he has learned a lot under the experience of Ruan (Pienaar) and Marshy (Paul Marshall), and that will stand him in great stead.
“All four of the guys have a great work ethic and a genuine eagerness to develop their game, so I have no doubt that they will continue to be key components of our squad for the years ahead.”