Ulster Rugby today announced the signings Niall O’Connor and Rob Herring for the 2012/13 season. We flagged O’Connor’s likely return back at the start of May and picked up on Herring’s move a few weeks ago.
Since O’Connor’s move became common knowledge I’ve been more than a little disappointed with the underwhelming welcome the underrated out half has received in certain quarters.
Despite being one of the best passers around when playing on the gain line, O’Connor has come under fire for his previous performances for Ulster when he mostly played behind a beaten pack.
Having watched his progress over the last few years, including when he mentored a young Patrick Jackson in Ravens/Ulster A matches, I’m more than confident that O’Connor will confirm his status as a class act and the competition between himself and Jackson is far from a foregone conclusion.
Haven’t got anything new on Herring from our initial article, except that he is actually Irish Qualified. the question remains though what does his inclusion in the squad mean for Niall Annett and Nigel Brady?
Below is today’s press release from UR.
The pair will add significant depth to the squad, which will also be bolstered by fellow new recruits Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson.
A graduate of the Phoenix Ulster Academy, O’Connor returns to the club having enjoyed a one year spell with Connacht. The 24 year old established himself as the first choice flyhalf in Galway and produced a number of fine displays throughout the season. The highlight of his campaign was the 9-8 win over Harlequins, in which he kicked all his side’s points to help record a first ever Heineken Cup win for the Western province.
During his time with Ulster, O’Connor made 51 appearances and scored 212 points. He will compete for the starting flyhalf position with Ireland U20 captain Paddy Jackson and South Afican International Ruan Pienaar.
Irish-qualified hooker Rob Herring will arrive in Belfast from Western Province, where he was involved in their Vodacom Cup squad. The 22 year old South African enjoyed a brief stint with London Irish before returning to his native South Africa.
The 16st 3lbs hooker joined the London Irish Academy in 2009 and made his senior debut against Northampton in May 2010. He will provide competition for Rory Best, Nigel Brady and Niall Annett.
Ulster Director of Rugby, David Humphreys, commented on the signings:
“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.”
O’Connor is delighted to be returning to his home Province and feels his game has been improved by the stint in Galway.
“I got a fair bit of game time down there 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.”