Ulster A: Kieran Campbell says players 'privileged' to have chance to shine in front of online viewers

Nathan Doak in action for Ulster A against Connacht Eagles last month
Nathan Doak, the son of former Ulster scrum-half and coach Neil Doak, will be among the young talents on view in Friday's match which is being streamed on the BBC Sport NI website
A Interprovincial: Ulster A v Leinster A
Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast Date: Friday, 15 January Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Sport NI website

Ulster Academy boss Kieran Campbell says the province's A team will feel "privileged" to have the chance to play Friday's game against the Leinster counterparts at Kingspan Stadium.

The game will be streamed live on the BBC Sport NI website as viewers have the chance to watch some of Ireland's best emerging rugby talent.

"It's one of the few sporting events this weekend," said Campbell.

"And we're getting to do something that we love.

"The players are getting to play their sport in an arena like Kingspan with an audience watching. I would expect the guys to take that with them and deliver a lot of spirit and put on a performance tomorrow."

'Blend of youth and experience'

The Ulster side that has been selected is a blend of youth and experience with the "olds hands", as Campbell jokingly calls them, including the likes of Bill Johnston, Adam McBurney, Ross Kane, Marcus Rea and captain David McCann, who all have experience with the seniors.

The young contingent includes former Irish schools sprint champion Aaron Sexton, Nathan Doak, and a familiar Ulster rugby surname as James Humphreys - son of former Ulster and Ireland star David Humphreys - is named on the bench.

Campbell, who was named as the Ireland Under-20 coach on Wednesday, is at pains to say that first-year university student James will be "under no pressure" going into Friday's match.

"The pressure is all on me there to make sure that this guy is developed appropriately," laughs Campbell, who was a half-back partner of David Humphreys both for Ulster and Ireland.

"James is still a really young kid. He has been really diligent and spent a long time with what we would call our sub-academy at New Forge.

"He's got some nice things about his game in terms of his skill set.

"He's here to learn and develop. There's a lot of pressure on me because I'm sure there will be someone scrutinising me and letting me know as he did in the past where it needs to improve."

Lock Cormac Izuchukwu has been named in Ulster's A side for Friday's game
Young lock Cormac Izuchukwu will be in action for Ulster A in Friday's game

Ulster now laden with home grown talent

It's not that many years ago that Ulster was coming in for criticism for a perceived failure to bring young players through to both the provincial and national set-ups but it's now very much a changed picture in the northern province.

And given the financial hit Irish rugby is taking as a result of Covid-19, that home grown talent has never been more important for the health of the sport.

"It's important to every Irish province. We can only have a certain amount of outside influence in terms of players brought in," adds Campbell.

"It's been a long time in the making developing these players to come through.

"We're very fortunate too in having a head coach in Dan McFarland and an organisation which has significantly invested in producing a model which is now allowing these players to get opportunities."

With Ulster's seniors having a week off from competitive action because of the cancellation of their next two European fixtures, Campbell has been thrilled to see the province's big names playing a big role in preparing the A team for Friday's match.

"Dan has used it to integrate the boys with the senior team and prepare together in preparation for this A game. The senior guys have been great.

"We usually are what they call the wheelers in that we through Dan Soper run against the seniors. It's been interesting watching guys like Marcell Coetzee and Billy Burns take on that role this week. It's nice to have the star names doing our role and running against us."

Ulster A: Aaron Sexton; Ben Moxham, Hayden Hyde, Ben Carson, Conor Rankin; Bill Johnston, Nathan Doak; Gareth Milasinovich, Adam McBurney, Ross Kane; Cormac Izuchukwu, Conor McMenamin; Harry Sheridan, Marcus Rea, David McCann (capt).

Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O'Toole, Reuben Crothers, James McCormick, Lewis Finlay, James Humphreys.

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