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Irish-qualified Bristol back Hughes among new additions to Ulster academy

The northern province have brought six youngsters into Year 1 of their academy programme.

ULSTER HAVE ANNOUNCED six new faces in their academy ahead of the 2018/19 season, including Irish-qualified back three Iwan Hughes, who joins from English club Bristol.

Iwan Hughes Hughes in action for the Ireland U19s this year. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The northern province have also confirmed that three players – back row Greg Jones, scrum-half Jonny Stewart and hooker Adam McBurney – have joined Nick Timoney in advancing from the academy onto senior contracts.

19-year-old Hughes, who played for England U18s before being identified by the IRFU’s IQ Rugby/Exiles programme and shining for Ireland at U18 and U19 level, is one of the six youngsters to join Year 1 of Ulster’s academy programme.

Matthew Agnew, who played for Ireland at the World Rugby U20 Championship in June, and Azur Allison, who captained the Ireland U19s earlier this year, provide promising new back row options.

Allison is joined by two fellow Ballymena Academy alumni in out-half Bruce Houston and centre Stewart Moore, while Banbridge back row David McCann – who won two Ulster Schools Senior Cups with RBAI in 2016 and 2017 – is the final new addition.

Joining Year 2 of the programme are Ireland 7s flyer Robert Baloucoune - an Enniskillen RFC product who has joined Ballymena – and scrum-half Graham Curtis – younger brother of Ulster academy midfielder Angus and son of ex-Ireland international David.

Azur Allison Ireland U19s captain Azur Allison joins the academy. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Baloucoune and Curtis had linked up with the Ulster academy during the course of last season and now come on board full-time.

“It is always an exciting time of the year when we welcome in the new crop of young academy players and, once again, we are delighted with the level of quality coming in,” said Ulster’s head of academy, former Ireland scrum-half Kieran Campbell.

“Our player development pathway from U16 through to academy is going from strength to strength, evidenced by 36% of Ulster representation on Irish national talent squads and 46 Ulster senior caps won by academy players last season.

“The quality of players and their level of application is driving competition within the pathway and the current crop are full of enthusiasm and keen to get stuck into the programme, so we’re all really looking forward to seeing how they progress over the season.”

It was also confirmed that centre Rory Butler,  prop Peter Cooper, hooker Alexander Clarke and lock John McCusker have “departed the full-time academy programme to pursue other opportunities.”

Robert Baloucoune tackled by Stephen Tomasin 20-year-old Baloucoune was part of Ireland's squad at the Rugby World Cup Sevens last weekend. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

Ulster academy 2018/19:

Year 3: Angus Curtis (centre or out-half/Malone), Aaron Hall (back row/Ballynahinch), Zack McCall (hooker/Ballynahinch), Marcus Rea (back row/Ballymena).

Year 2: Matthew Dalton (lock or back row/Malone), Joe Dunleavy (back row/Malone), James Hume (centre/Banbridge), Michael Lowry (out-half/Banbridge), Eric O’Sullivan (loosehead/Banbridge), Tom O’Toole (tighthead/Ballynahinch), Jack Regan (lock/Ballynahinch), Robert Baloucoune (back three/Ballymena), Graham Curtis (scrum-half/Malone).

Year 1: Iwan Hughes (back three/Ballynahinch), Stewart Moore (centre/Malone), David McCann (back row/Banbridge), Bruce Houston (out-half/Ballymena), Matthew Agnew (back row/Malone), Azur Allison (back row/Ballymena).

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