Ulster ‘A’ will host the Scarlets ‘A’ side in the second round of the Celtic Cup at Shaw’s Bridge on Friday night (kick-off 7pm), and the starting XV will feature no less than eight Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy players.
20-year-old talent Michael Lowry will captain the home team from out-half in what will be his first competitive game for Ulster ‘A’. He forms a half-back partnership with fellow Academy player Graham Curtis, whose older brother Angus is currently away with the Ulster senior squad in South Africa.
Aaron Sexton, Robert Baloucoune, who is fresh from winning the Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series title with Ireland last weekend, and Iwan Hughes make up a dynamic and fleet-footed back-three for the province, while James Hume, the scorer of two tries in the 43-28 first round defeat to Leinster ‘A’, and Jack Owens are paired together once again in midfield.
Peter Cooper, Peter Cromie and Paul McGookin will pack down in the front row, with Matthew Dalton and Bradley Luney, who is stepping up with Ballynahinch this season, named in the engine room. The fit-again Clive Ross will add experience to the back row, and Matthew Agnew and Joe Dunleavy selected as the other loose forwards.
Coaches Kieran Campbell and Willie Anderson have opted for a six-two split on the bench, the forward cover being provided by Claytan Milligan, Tommy O’Hagan, Michael Cromie, Jack Regan, Marcus Rea and Aaron Hall. Ballymena youngsters Michael Stronge (20) and Bruce Houston (19) are the back-line options.
Teenage full-back Hughes commented: “We were disappointed with the result (against Leinster ‘A’). It was a bit disjointed at times but it was a good experience for a lot of the younger players like myself. We scored four tries against a very powerful Leinster team so we have to take some positives from it.
“We’ve been working really hard put on a good performance this weekend. The Scarlets are a strong side but we’re all excited about taking them on. The Celtic Cup is a brilliant competition, especially for the Academy boys. It’s great to get exposure to a high standard of rugby.”
ULSTER ‘A’ (v Scarlets ‘A’): Iwan Hughes*; Robert Baloucoune*, Jack Owens, James Hume*, Aaron Sexton; Michael Lowry* (capt), Graham Curtis*; Peter Cooper, Peter Cromie, Paul McGookin, Matthew Dalton*, Bradley Luney, Clive Ross, Matthew Agnew*, Joe Dunleavy*.
Replacements: Claytan Milligan, Tommy O’Hagan, Michael Cromie, Jack Regan*, Marcus Rea*, Aaron Hall*, Michael Stronge, Bruce Houston*.
* Denotes Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy player