Dave Ewers reveals his awe at Ulster’s power of youth amid injury crisis

2 months ago 9

So, it would appear that the young guns are firing.

Ulster have already been beset with injury issues in 2023/24, and you could have understood if they had been eager to put it out there that it has all really been an unfortunate series of events.

And yet, there has been no real need for such handwringing, as the adversity the province have faced has not exactly undermined them – far from it.

Of course, there is no getting around that they did lose in Glasgow – their second and heaviest reverse of the 2023/24 season thus far – but there were more than respectable showings from their rather callow back-row; Academy debutant James McNabney as well as Development players Reuben Crothers and Harry Sheridan.

Dave Ewers has been pleased with the way Ulster's young guns have risen to the occasion amid injury problems

Dave Ewers has been pleased with the way Ulster's young guns have risen to the occasion amid injury problems

Ulster’s injury issues might have been enough to undo any squad, as Dan McFarland has had to dip rather more frequently than might normally have been the case into the province’s Academy to fill the gaps – prop Scott Wilson being just one of a number of young players who have been forced to step up – and yet the necessary fast-tracking process has been notably effective.

The situation in the back-row has been a case in point. With both Nick Timoney and new signing Dave Ewers succumbing to knocks early in the 2023/24 season, Ulster have also deployed Lorcan McLoughlin, meaning that, alongside McNabney and Crothers, three fresh faces have been handed debuts.

And in other positions, Ulster have awarded first caps to not only Wilson, but also his Academy colleagues Joe Hopes and Zac Solomon. Just outside the Academy structure, Jude Postlethwaite and Ben Carson have also been deployed, with the latter making his debut at Connacht.

David McCann has been one of many young players to catch the eye of Dave Ewers at Ulster

David McCann has been one of many young players to catch the eye of Dave Ewers at Ulster

Saturday was a particularly interesting situation, as the most experienced member of McFarland’s starting back-row for Glasgow was Sheridan, who was playing just his 13th senior game.

Indeed, Crothers was just winning his third cap, while turning out at Scotstoun was McNabney’s first-ever sampling of professional rugby.

As if that wasn’t worrying enough, they were facing off against a trio of Scotland Test players who had all played at the World Cup.

It looked like a horrible mismatch, and yet that’s not how it worked out.

McNabney’s charge just eight minutes in off a lineout turnover set a tone for the 20-year-old’s evening, while Sheridan put in his usual high work-rate and Crothers was hitting rucks all over the park as well as being credited with 21 tackles.

It feels like the young guns are absolutely determined to make the most of their opportunities rather than shirk from them, and Dave McCann – still only 23 years old but with over 30 Ulster games behind him – has been blazing a trail for all the youngsters with some undeniably standout efforts.

James McNabney enjoyed his first-ever sampling of professional rugby during Ulster's encounter with Glasgow in Scotstoun

James McNabney enjoyed his first-ever sampling of professional rugby during Ulster's encounter with Glasgow in Scotstoun

For an old stager like Ewers, who may be missing against Edinburgh due to injury, their approach and attitude of the next generation has been, well, eye-opening.

“They have been brilliant,” says the Zimbabwean back-rower who joined the province from Exeter over the summer.

“I take my hat off to them. They come in, and during the week, you can see that they are asking and questioning, they are really high up on their detail and what is expected of them.

“I have been quite taken back by how professional they have been, in terms of they are not afraid to ask questions and (produce) what is expected of them in certain situations.

Young prop Scott Wilson has made a positive impression when called upon by Ulster

Young prop Scott Wilson has made a positive impression when called upon by Ulster

“You can see that by how they are playing, they know where to be and they know what they are doing, so they are getting the detail right during the week, which is allowing them to show the best of themselves in the game.

“I’m really happy for them how they have played,” he added, though the new signing may already be looking over his shoulder in terms of keeping a starting place. “And it is a real credit to the club that they have got these youngsters coming through for an exciting future.”

Ulster could do with keeping this new wave going and firing.

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