Ulster were bolstered by the signatures of Will Addison, Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore and Billy Burns in the off season while Henry Speight joined as an injury joker up to the end of December.
But have they improved an Ulster side that said goodbye to 11 players at the end of last season?
Here’s how they got on:
Addison’s last appearance of the season came against Leicester in January’s final group game of the Champions Cup due to requiring surgery on a back injury.
Undoubtedly Ulster have looked a different team when he has been picked – his man of the match display away to Scarlets in Europe won Ulster the game.
Starting the season at fullback, he moved into outside centre as the injury situation worsened and popped up with great defensive reads. Barring injury disaster, it’s likely that he’ll go to the World Cup with Ireland, but it will be interesting where he lines up when he returns especially if Luke Marshall continues his form and remains injury free.
Still only 24 years of age, Billy Burns has already a solid rugby CV. Moving from Gloucester to replace Paddy Jackson, he was always going to be under a lot of scrutiny, but I think he’s had a decent first season.
His chip kick has become a useful weapon for Ulster. Often used when on the front foot, it secured the bonus point try at home to Scarlets in Europe, in the build up to Ulster’s second try away to Racing 92 as well as Robert Baloucoune’s match winning try at Welford Road.
As he gets more experience in the ten jersey I think he’ll get even better.
It wasn’t until round one of Europe when Marty Moore made his Ulster debut but he went on to start 19 of the next 20 matches in the tighthead prop jersey. His 93% tackle completion rate is impressive but it is his work in the scrum that will be most noted. Moore’s arrival in the 41st minute helped steady a precarious scrum against Leicester marking Ulster’s first match in Europe with a win.
With Eric O’Sullivan bursting onto the scene and cementing a place in the first team as well as the impending arrival of Jack McGrath, Ulster are building a quality front row ahead of next season.
Arriving as a European Champions Cup and PRO14 winner in the summer, Jordi has lived up to expectation. Falling down the pecking order for Ireland has seen an increase in domestic action but he has made an impact any time he takes the field for Ulster.
He’s a workhorse in defence, regularly reaching double digits in the tackle count, and has formed a formidable partnership with Marcell Coetzee in the back row. He played a huge part in Ulster’s bonus point win at Rodney Parade at the start of March, providing three turnovers, a score and 20 tackles.
Speight probably didn’t have the same impact as Christian Lealiifano did last season, but he came in at a time where Ulster were ravaged with injury on the wing. Making 12 appearances in the white jersey, his last game was away to Connacht at the turn of the year while he missed four games at the start of the season due to injury. His first try for Ulster was an 80th minute score against the Cheetahs which gave Billy Burns the chance to salvage a draw with the last kick of the game.