Stephen Ferris has urged Dan McFarland to throw more of Ulster’s young guns into the line of fire in this season’s new-look United Rugby Championship.
McFarland, heading into his fourth campaign as head coach, hasn’t been afraid to blood youth during his three year tenure with the province.
Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Mike Lowry, Ethan McIlroy, Nathan Doak and Dave McCann have all made their debuts on his watch.
But former Ireland ace Ferris, who won 106 caps with Ulster, would like to see more consistent game time given to the likes of flanker McCann, winger McIlroy and teenage No9 Doak in the months ahead.
The Premier Sports analyst said: “I know Dan McFarland has been quite vocal on how much he has used his young guys over the last year and a half, but in my opinion he hasn’t used them enough.
“He hasn’t used them in enough games like an Ulster v Zebre where you can experiment a little. He’s given guys lots of caps but not lots of game time.
“Nowadays it’s ‘you’ve gotta earn your stripes’. Stuff that, you don’t ‘gotta earn your stripes’. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
“I’m not sure if it’s Dan or if it has been the coaching set-up over the last couple of years, but the reins seem to be held on the younger lads.
“It’s ‘well, hold on a second, people are starting to talk about you outside the club, we’ve got to keep a hold of you’.
“But if they’re good enough, get them out there.”
Ferris says he was frustrated to see veteran pivot Alby Mathewson preferred to Ireland U20 scrum-half Doak in a number of fixtures last season.
The 19-year-old, who recently drew plaudits from Ireland captain Rory Best, made his debut against Munster in January and has played 32 minutes of senior action in two caps to date.
Forward McCann has amassed 286 minutes of senior action in six appearances, while versatile wing McIlroy has started eight of 15 games since making his debut in December 2019.
“Something which annoyed me last year,” said Ferris. “I watched Nathan play numerous times at A Level and we’re going with Alby Mathewson just because he has a bit of experience.
“That’s fair enough and Dan’s the head coach and he makes the big decisions (but) I just hope he keeps evolving and maturing this young Ulster team.
“Ethan McIlroy has had lots of minutes, but just not enough for me.
“Dave McCann has been going OK in the back row but again, I’d like to see him start two or three games on the bounce to see what he’s made of.
“See if he can handle the bigger opposition, put him in against a huge back row or put him in with a lighter back row.
“It seems a wee bit like, ‘throw him in for a game here’ and then you don’t see Dave McCann for six weeks.
“I’d like to see these younger guys given more opportunity on the bigger stage and the bigger stage for the younger guys coming through is the URC going forward.”
- Premier Sports will be the home of live Ulster Rugby action in the United Rugby Championship this season, bringing supporters action and analysis from every Ulster game home and away.
- Every Ulster game will be shown LIVE while more than 100 exclusive fixtures across the URC will also be hosted with coverage from every round across Ireland, Italy, Wales, Scotland and South Africa.