One new face and one sort of new face added to Ulster squad
The Ulster rugby squad has been boosted by the arrival of one new face and one sort of new face ahead of next season.
The Heineken Cup finalists today announced the signing of South African hooker Rob Herring from Western Province and out-half Niall O’Connor from Connacht, only a season after O’Connor headed west to benefit from greater exposure with Eric Elwood’s side.
The addition of Herring is not only a boost for Ulster, but also for the Irish national side as the 22-year old is Irish-qualified and will hopefully provide some competition for the likes of provincial colleague Rory Best and Sean Cronin in the national side a little further down the line.
O’Connor’s return from Connacht is a premature one as the 24-year old had been due to spend another year with the Westerners, but after an approach was made from Ulster, Elwood agreed to let him return to his home province.
New coach Mark Anscombe looks like he will have considerable strength at his disposal next season with O’Connor and Herring joining old boys Roger Wilson and Tommy Bowe as the new faces in the squad.
Commenting on the new arrivals, Ulster Director of Rugby David Humphreys said: “We are continuing to build our squad depth and the additions of Niall and Rob will further enhance our ability to compete over the course of a gruelling season.
“Niall went away and gained a year’s experience playing with Connacht and he has now come back to challenge Paddy and Ruan for the number 10 jersey. Rob is a typical South African forward who is very physical and is an accurate set piece operator. He is Irish-qualified and is a very ambitious individual who will thrive in our training environment,” said Humphreys.
O’Connor was delighted to be returning to his home province, saying: “I got a fair bit of game time down there (Connacht) and I’d like to thank Eric and his staff for that. I gained more experience and feel I have improved as a player over the past season. But when the possibility arose to move back up to my home club, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity as Ulster are one of the best sides in Europe.
“It was great watching my mates do so well in the Heineken Cup last season. I’m looking forward to getting back to training next week to see them all again. I’m not thinking too far ahead but I’ll get pre-season under my belt and then hopefully I’ll get a run out in the friendlies and I’ll take it from there,” he added.
It will be a big ask for Ulster to repeat or go even better in Europe's premier club competition than they did last season, but the new arrivals certainly won't do them any harm.