Defence Coach Jared Payne has called on Ulster’s young players to continue to take opportunities, having watched a number of players burst onto the scene already this season.
Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy players have lined out for the senior team on 43 occasions so far this season, with Head Coach Dan McFarland handing debuts to five of Kieran Campbell’s Academy panel.
Angus Curtis and Tom O’Toole have also seen their Academy contracts upgraded to senior deals after impressive starts to the campaign.
Reflecting on the season to date, Payne said: “There has been a pretty good buzz amongst the guys in training, in particular. The young players are keen and excited and that is having a really positive effect on the group as a whole.
“I think once you see that they are making progress, it gives everyone a lift and re-affirms that we are on the right path in terms of our development as a group.”
With such heavy fixture congestion throughout December and January, changes to the match day 23 are expected for this weekend’s game against Leinster, before an assault on rounds 5 and 6 of the Heineken Champions Cup, as Racing 92 and Leicester lie in wait.
It’s therefore likely that some of those Academy players who have impressed so far, will be involved at the RDS on Saturday.
“You’ve got to manage the team during this period, so there will be a few changes and a few good opportunities for younger players. They have done really well for us and I can’t wait to see some of them get another run-out.
“This Saturday represents a great chance for them. People don’t expect much from the group, going down to play Leinster, so there’s no better opportunity to play without fear. That’s a pretty good place to be.”
Payne believes physicality, discipline and accuracy will all be important factors as Ulster aims to record a first win against Leinster in Dublin since March 2013.
“For us, the first thing is that we’ve got to front up physically. So the boys will front up and get stuck into them.
“But it’s important that we don’t cross the line in terms of not doing anything silly. We gave away a few silly penalties and lost the ball a bit too much against Connacht, which we can’t afford to do again.
“At the end of the day, it all comes down to accuracy. The players will have this at the forefront of their minds; to be more accurate in key areas and, hopefully, not give the opposition many chances.”