Ulster Rugby v Glasgow Warriors

action will be the priority. And the contrast with the World Cup of exactly four years ago are happier. Ulster was still awaiting the much-anticipated arrival of Director of Rugby Les Kiss once his duties with Ireland were complete. Neil Doak took the reins at the coaching helm and it is to his credit that he guided Ulster to an impressively positive start to the league season though denied a much larger number on international duty. Ireland’s disappointing 2015 World Cup had its consequences for Ulster on and o‰ the pitch: key players returned injured and several fatigued and unavailable for several weeks, while the coaching panel only genuinely was allowed to find its feet under an energetic but very di‰erent figure in the shape of Kiss. So McFarland’s authoritative stamp of the last 13 months is embossed with a unity of purpose and a collective determination amongst Bryn Cunningham, Dwayne Peel, Grant, Dan Soper, Jared Payne and Niall Malone to fulfil the potential of the playing group with which they’ve worked so intensely this summer. This afternoon it is possible that the ‘young bloods’ who impressed last year will feature prominently, and Michael Lowry, Angus Curtis, Angus Kernohan, Marcus and Matty Rea, Nick Timoney, Greg Jones, Tom O’Toole, Robert Baloucoune and James Hume are just a random few who’ll want to copper-fasten the high opinions they earned last season with fans and coaches alike. Matt Faddes, Sam Carter and Bill Johnston are amongst those who have arrived to deepen the pool of already proven talent, and McGrath and Gareth Milasinovic strengthen the choices at prop forward. Familiar but recently absent players will probably welcome a new campaign with particular relish, and hopefully Craig Gilroy’s patient, season-long rehabilitation will be rewarded with a return to top form and representative rugby. He’s one of the crowd favourites who’d adorn any squad.

Glasgow Warriors will provide a suitably physical and free-running challenge over the next two games, tests which will have Ulster battle-hardened and comparatively unburdened by ‘ring rust’ when the Kingspan roars its welcome to the Ospreys on Friday, 27 September. All new campaigns generate optimism, expectation and the occasional dream, the job the players and coaches have taken on is to minimise the threats to realising those ambitions. Neither side will be thinking of ‘holding the line’ until the World Cup contingents return, rather each will be looking to shape its best competitive squads for the toughest PRO14 season to date, and for the increasingly pressurised but glamorous demands of Europe. This week and next will give players wonderful opportunities, the readiness of many to capitalise is almost tangible.



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