Ross Adair in action for Sullivan Upper.

The Ulster U20 squad for Friday’s inter-provincial tie with Leinster at Ravenhill has been named (kick off 7pm)…

The U20s open their 2012 campaign with a difficult game against Leinster who have dominated rugby at this level over the past few years. The squad includes senior caps Stuart Olding (flyhalf) and Conor Joyce (back row).

U20s Head Coach Terry McMaster commented ahead of the game: “Both myself and Allen (Assistant coach Allen Clarke) have been delighted with how preparations have went and by the effort put in by all the players involved. It is in essence a 12 week programme and the boys have bought into what we are trying to achieve and have been totally committed from the outset. We are happy with the rugby aspects of our preparation and with the strength and conditioning work which has been undertaken.”

McMaster has no doubts about the difficulty of the task facing his team tomorrow night. “It will be a massive challenge for us as they are a quality side. Leinster are the leading province in age grade rugby and have been for some time. This provides us with the ultimate challenge. Allen and I have worked with the majority of their players over the past few years, Allen in his role as High Performance Manager and myself in the role of National U18 Coach, so we know what to expect.”

While he admits it would be nice to win the inter-pro campaign, McMaster is adamant that his main priority of the coaching staff is to develop the players. “Our target is to produce indigenous Ulster players of the future. Wins are a nice reward for the hard work that has gone in but our focus is on seeing how the players progress as a result of this process,” he concluded.

Ulster U20 squad. 

Forwards: Norman Sinclair, Jake Caulfield, Jonny Craig, John Andrew, Chris Taylor, Sam McNabney, John Donnan, Grant Bartley, Matthew Rea, Stuart Hooks, Matthew Clarke, Conor Joyce, Ben Alexander. Backs: John Creighton, Matthew Keane, Niall Martin, Stuart Olding, Mark Best, Ryan Martin, David Busby, Ross Adair, Jordan Heatley, Rory Scholes.

I’m looking forward to this game for a couple of reasons.

As far as players go I’ll be interested to see how John Andrew, Matthew Rea and Conor Joyce get on up front and how Stuart Olding, Ross Adair and Rory Scholes get on in the back line against a strong Leinster side. All have impressed me in the past so it’ll be interesting to see how they have developed over the last year.

Secondly, I’m very interested to see how the much vaunted “Elite Young Player Development” programme led by Allen Clarke and Brian McLaughlin is starting to shake up. Speaking for myself, Id say I’m pretty upbeat about the amount of talent that Ulster have at schools level though I think our conversion from schools to senior level could do with a bit of work, both in talent spotting and particularly in the administrative side. How this programme develops over the next few years is more important to Ulster’s long term success than buying in a couple of big names at senior level.

I’ve a lot of time for Clarke, since his time here as a player, and I’m expecting big changes and if you want to get a feeling for what Ulster teams of the future will look like i suggest you get along to these U20 games for the next few seasons.


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