UIster forwards coach Roddy Grant emphasises importance of producing homegrown talent

Iain Henderson is back for Ulster after playing for Ireland in the World Cup (Photo: Chris Hyde)
Iain Henderson is back for Ulster after playing for Ireland in the World Cup (Photo: Chris Hyde)

Tom Stewart was the first Ulster-born forward in over a decade to make an Ireland debut when he came of the bench against Italy in the World Cup warm-ups.

In the defeat against Connacht last Saturday night Ulster gave debuts to forward Reuben Crothers – who departed shortly after kick-off due to injury – while Joe Hopes and Ben Carson made their provincial bows from the bench.

Lock Hopes is the latest player from the Queen’s production line to play for the province and the first since Ulster and the university club entered into an academy partnership at the start of the season.

Grant said: “The link-up is really important for development, seeing them progress, the continuity – it's really important to have home-grown guys coming through.
“Joe did really well when he came on, his first impact was a good tackle, and he was into the game. With young forwards it's time in the saddle, minutes played does the world for them and accelerates their growth.

“Hopefully there's more games to come from him over the season,” he added.

“We certainly thought they were ready, that's why they played over the weekend.

“It was unfortunate for Rueben getting his head knock when he came on but it was off a really good carry, one with a lot of intent. They're ready for the league, for sure.”

Ulster welcome back World Cup trio Iain Henderson, Rob Herring and Stuart McCloskey for Friday night’s Irish derby against defending URC champions Munster at Kingspan Stadium.

“It's awesome having your internationals back in and available and adding to the squad, that's been good for us, some fresh faces,” said Grant.

“They're coming in really enthusiastic and keen to get back into it, back in with us. They've been good, bringing the energy, and they're all desperate to play for Ulster.

“The Irish guys are back in training and selection will come nearer the end of the week once we know the injuries and where those guys sit.

“Experience is good in a squad. When you have those guys, you want to maximise their experience, not just on the pitch but in training."

Munster are second in the table after two wins and a draw, and Grant feels the game could be decided at the battle of the breakdown.

“Munster have gone well in the opening rounds,” he said.

“They'll have the Irish guys back, I'm assuming this week and potentially available. They're great players.

“You're not champions for nothing and you don't win trophies without a good pack.

“Regardless of who plays, they've got good depth and it's Munster so there's a lot of pride and a lot of fight.”