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News

Young Guns

by UAFC Editor on Wed Aug 29, 2012 11:54 pm
Rating:
  • 2 votes
(2 votes)


UAFC stalwart BuckRogers on the upcoming season, with a look at some of the youngsters who could make an impression (if only I knew how to photoshop some faces onto this pic, ah well - the Ed!!)

With the Rt Honourable Dr DG Humphreys, OBE, confirming that all incoming arrivals have landed on our shores, pre-season games all over and everyone but the Irish touring contingent ready and available for selection we can now turn our full attention towards the upcoming season. Ulster have gladly announced the return of home-grown trio Bowe, Wilson and O’Connor whilst introducing new faces Doyle, Herring and Williams with the former two both Irish qualified, technically at least.

The Kids Done Good
If the senior Irish tour ended in calamity for almost all involved the same can thankfully not be said for their junior counterparts. Admittedly, though perhaps in typical Irish fashion, they did things the hard way, beating the eventual winners, whilst the key loss was to the English on a pitch that was all but unplayable. They did both themselves and their country proud with an admirable 5th placed finish.

From an Ulster perspective the strong showings of both Henderson and Farrell will provide some welcome optimism amongst supporters and also perhaps some respite for our grossly underperforming academy system and coaches. If both of these guys do not get some decent game-time this incoming season it will be a sad indictment of both Ulster and Irish rugby. At a time when Non-Irish Eligible players are the focus of many fan and media articles these are two potentially excellent prospects who, in the opinion of this armchair pundit, must be pushed through to see what they are made of.

Whilst Henderson and Farrell were the guys to get the plaudits there should be honourable mentions for both Stuart Olding, the Belfast Harlequins player, and Peter Nelson of Dungannon who both made positive contributions to the Irish cause as well. They both have potential and hopefully a strong season with their clubs and the Ravens will help their development further.

PJ's Time?
Prior to the Junior World Cup one of the biggest talking points was the enforced withdrawal of Paddy Jackson, who with the departure of Ian Humphreys, seems the heir apparent to the coveted Ulster No.10 jersey – a jersey that has not had an unquestioned long-term tenant since the playing days of Humph Sr himself. Jackson looks like a prospect but with Ireland’s improved fortunes with JJ Hanrahan at the helm in South Africa, and arguably a less than inspiring showing in the HEC Semi-Final and Final itself, some question marks hang over the young man.

Defensively there are no issues whatsoever, he is a brave player with an excellent tackling technique. The question comes when we look beyond defence; though I will state now I do not believe the problem to be Jackson’s – rather a failing within the previous coaching system/style of play. Having watched him a number of times over the past two seasons he is a player who has a great deal of confidence, little seems to faze him and who will forget his dazzling solo break against Scarlets in his debut game in February 2011 or the show and go try he scored against the Ospreys at the start of last season. The problem he faced when he came into the Ulster side at the end of last season was that he was placed there to contain, not to play. He was rarely asked to kick; Pienaar did that almost exclusively. The problem was thus when he had to kick he was hesitant and unsure of himself which is no good to anyone. If Jackson is to be Ulster’s long-term answer then he has to be given responsibility from the start. It may be a hard road initially but he cannot be cosseted. He is either ready or he is not, the problem of course is if he is not we either have to revert to using O’Connor or Wallace at 10 or Marshall at 9… none of which are overly appealing prospects.

Midfield Generals
In general, if last season ended in somewhat of an anti-climax this season should, initially at least, breath a bit of life back into Ulster supporters. With Humphreys having swept a few players out the door, or perhaps more accurately some players moving on for the sake of career advancement, we are going to be more reliant on the younger members of the squad stepping up and making good on early initial promise. Luke Marshall and Nevin Spence in the centre are both Irish U-20 caps and exciting prospects albeit for different reasons. Spence enjoyed a sensational break-through year as a 13 playing outside Paddy Wallace but for one reason or another was shoe-horned rather uncomfortably into the 12 role last season. It is hard to say whether it was the fault of the player or the coach but Spence was given a very clear and limited approach on too many occasions – head down, run hard. For a player with the pace, power and athleticism of Spence this was surely a waste.

Marshall by contrast is regarded by many as a similar style player to Wallace – good kicking and distribution and not shy of contact either if needs be. Indeed he enjoyed a couple of very impressive performances off the bench the season before last but injury and form impacted on his ability to kick on last season.

The Big Lads
Enough of the lady-boys in the back division for now however. Rugby, as they say, is a game in which forwards decide the winner with the backs simply having an input on the margin of victory. In Ulster we haven’t had many young forward prospects to get the juices flowing since Faloon and Pollock came through in close proximity to one another. This year however things may be a little different.

Having already touched on Henderson we can also look to Adam Macklin and Ali Birch as players who could make a lasting impression this season. Macklin at 23 is still young for a prop and while he starts as undoubtedly third choice behind a World Cup winner and an incumbent Irish international, this is not to say that this is going to hold him back. He has two excellent role models in Fitzpatrick and Afoa and he should be doing all he can in the gym, on the training pitch and with Harlequins and the Ravens to push himself on. Having watched him closely at AIL level he has on occasions struggled as a scrummager, he is now of an age and physical ability where he should be starting to get the better of the older more experienced but physically less impressive peers in the AIL. This is probably the most important thing he can do because the rest of his game is strong.

Birch is yet another mad-man from Armagh, following in the footsteps of friend Willie Faloon, since departed for Connacht. Mad he undoubtedly is, as can be seen with his no-holds barred approach to the games in which he has featured for Ulster, most impressively against Leinster where he threw his head into places most would not put their boot; but less so in the few minutes he lasted on the pitch against Newcastle. Having put on a bit of necessary weight in the off-season he needs to strike that balance between Labrador retriever (boundless energy) and fox (sly and calculating) that separates good sevens from exceptional ones. He has good natural instincts, and finds himself in the right places – of course unless he stays on the pitch, instincts are of little use. With Ulster almost certain to see little of Ferris during the Rabo campaign and with injuries and call-ups likely to affect the back row Birch should see some decent game time this season and it is up to him to make the most of it.

I’m also quite confident in predicting that Anscombe will not be afraid of mixing it up a little. McLaughlin cannot be accused of not giving youth a chance but equally I do not believe it was always done in the best of environments. Wholesale changes such as the Leinster match do nobody any good, we have to give guys chances to play and stay playing. It is my opinion that the onus should be on the likes of Cave and Wallace to really press for their own inclusion rather than simply usher out Marshall or Farrell to accommodate players with a superior reputation. The same can equally be said in the forwards where Touhy, Henry et al should not be gifted easy rides back into the side after international duty.

Predictions:
  • Farrell to oust Wallace before the end of the season.

  • Henderson to leap-frog Stevenson and start really pushing Touhy for a place beside Muller.

  • Paddy Jackson to get an Irish cap.

 


 

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UAFC Editor has been a member since Thu May 03, 2012 8:02 am. He/She has posted a total of 18 News item(s) for a total of 27 post(s).

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Comments

User avatar
ColinM
Thu Aug 30, 2012 9:53 am

Nice article Buck. Not sure I agree with the bold predictions though, for this season anyway.

Farell looks more comfortable at 13 and I predict he'll leapfrog Cave over the course of the next 2-3 seasons if he continues the way he's improved this pre season. Luke Marshall seems the heir apparent at 12, but again not for a season or two. Where will all that leave Spence? Fighting for a spot on the wing with Bowe/Trimble/Gilroy? Interesting times ahead in the back division.

Henderson to do nothing more than leapfrog McComb this year, however if he's played a bit in the back row as well his versatility may assist his way onto the bench more frequently. I think we've still to see the best of big Lewis, who's a Heineken cup standard lock and will surely look beyond Ulster's shores again soon if he's not commanding a place on the regular playing squad.

Jackson to get a Wolfhounds cap I reckon, however if Kidders has a vision and decides to play a young 10 or ROG has an injury, as things stand Madigan and JJ are arguably ahead of young Paddy. I've my fingers crossed for the young fella but I remain to be convinced that the 10 slot will be anything other than the achillies heel for Ulster for another year at least


User avatar
darkside lightside
Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:09 am

Good article Buck! I agree completely about PJ, and actually I read somewhere that Humphreys said as much - i.e. that he was mollycoddled too much last year, rather than being given proper responsibility.

I also totally agree about Spence, he was totally wasted being sent into traffic with his head down last season. In fact we have a huge amount of options in the centre, with each player offering something a little different. I hope that Marshall can stay fit, because I think that he is one of the best and most exciting footballers that Ireland has produced for years...


User avatar
Kofi Annan
Thu Aug 30, 2012 12:21 pm

I think Farrell is already ahead of Paddy Wallace, Macklin to progress very quickly. Sense at last


User avatar
mikerob
Thu Aug 30, 2012 1:12 pm

Good article. Picking up the point about Spence, if Marshall and Farrell come through, he is potentially 5th choice centre behind those two, Cave and Wallace... and on the wing, 4th choice behind Bowe, Gilroy and Trimble. Add Payne into the mix, as he can play centre or wing as well, plus Allen and Cochrane will also be looking to make a name for themselves.

OK Wallace may retire, but barring injury to others, Spence may struggle to get regular gametime so he may need to look elsewhere...


User avatar
Setanta
Thu Aug 30, 2012 1:15 pm

Problem will be keepüing the depth!


User avatar
BuckRogers
Fri Aug 31, 2012 1:46 am

I think Ulster need to move away from Wallace at 12 tbh, not necessarily because he is a bad player-he clearly isn't, but because Farrel could offer so much more in the medium to longer term.

He has a much bigger natural frame than Jamie Roberts at a similar age, who if memory serves me correctly was only about 14 stone when he was 20, whilst Farrel is sitting comfortably over 16.

He's a strong, quick and seemingly skillful player and on those three points he is comfortably ahead of Paddy in the first two.

I think that Spence's injury couldn't have came at a worse time for him, he would almost certainly have had 100minutes of rugby under his belt by now and perhaps showed us what he can offer. He'll be hoping that perhaps his bad-luck befalls someone else otherwise it could be tough to get ahead of the current four.


User avatar
darkside lightside
Fri Aug 31, 2012 9:53 am

I wouldn't write Wallace off just yet though - I think he had one of his best seasons ever last year - he was under-played for the first half of his career, and he still looks in good nick, with still a great turn of pace.

Neither would I write Spence off - of all our centres, he is the most explosive over the first half dozen yards, he picks good lines and is a great finisher.

It is pretty amazing actually the way our centre situation is panning out - every single one of the players offers something slightly different, we have great options...


User avatar
Kofi Annan
Fri Aug 31, 2012 4:22 pm

I remember reading that when Wallace retires he intends to play at CIYMS, they could us him this year


User avatar
kingofthehill
Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:46 pm

Kofi Annan wrote:I think Farrell is already ahead of Paddy Wallace


Completely disagree Kofi.

Paddy will be an integral part of Ulster team this year.
We missed Paddy game sense in a number of games last year. One game stands out especially,the way fixture against Leceister.
That game proved that you need someone who can distribute at 12,all IHumph did was have Nevin hit it up or have Trimble hit it up behind the 12. It was marshalled from the start of that game. Ulster looked like a team without ideas.

I feel if Paddy had of played that game we would of had another scalp on English soil.

Don't get me wrong I think Farrell is going to be a quality player,still not sure if he will be a 12 or 13. My feeling now is that 13 is his position.


User avatar
ColinM
Fri Aug 31, 2012 9:51 pm

Farrell looked a years conditioning short of a regular pro, has the skills and the natural frame though he will be a big unit when he fills rightly


User avatar
BuckRogers
Mon Sep 03, 2012 12:24 pm

kingofthehill wrote:

Completely disagree Kofi.

Paddy will be an integral part of Ulster team this year.
We missed Paddy game sense in a number of games last year. One game stands out especially,the way fixture against Leceister.
That game proved that you need someone who can distribute at 12,all IHumph did was have Nevin hit it up or have Trimble hit it up behind the 12. It was marshalled from the start of that game. Ulster looked like a team without ideas.

I feel if Paddy had of played that game we would of had another scalp on English soil.



The tactically limited approach we took into this game was what ensured we left Welford Road with nada IMO. The best thing we could, and should, have done was to have played like we did against them at Ravers but McLaughs was still too busy trying not to lose at that stage than wanting to win. Wallace IMO wouldn't have made a difference.


User avatar
kingofthehill
Mon Sep 03, 2012 4:13 pm

BuckRogers wrote:
kingofthehill wrote:

Completely disagree Kofi.

Paddy will be an integral part of Ulster team this year.
We missed Paddy game sense in a number of games last year. One game stands out especially,the way fixture against Leceister.
That game proved that you need someone who can distribute at 12,all IHumph did was have Nevin hit it up or have Trimble hit it up behind the 12. It was marshalled from the start of that game. Ulster looked like a team without ideas.

I feel if Paddy had of played that game we would of had another scalp on English soil.


Wallace IMO wouldn't have made a difference.


Buck we will agree to disagree.

My main point is that Paddy will still be a 1st team player.


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Louis Ludik
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