go again

Ulster brush off the sugar coating and carry hurt of big defeats into new season

“If you forget about it, you won’t learn from it. When we need that hurt, we’ll use it.”

HOOKER ADAM MCBURNEY has a chance to set the record straight tonight.

If all goes to plan for Ulster in the Pro14 opener at home to Benetton (kick-off 20.15) then his chance might only be for 30-20 minutes off the bench. Yet the 24-year-old is clearly determined to fling himself through whatever window is presented to him.

McBurney’s last appearance in the senior side was a start against Connacht on restart day. He was poor in the 26-20 defeat and he has already shut out anyone trying to sugar coat it.

bundee-aki-with-jordi-murphy-and-adam-mcburney James Crombie / INPHO McBurney gets handed off by Bundee Aki in the restart game at the Aviva. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I’d rather be told the hard way and learn that way. I don’t need people blowing smoke up my ass to improve,” says McBurney.

“For me it was just myself mentally battling that way and keep improving on the areas I pointed out.”

During the virtual press conference earlier this week, some potentially mitigating factors are pointed out to the Ballymena man. He took a knock in the game, or that he’s bound to hear people hungry for a ready-made, homegrown replacement for Rory Best.

He scrubs each one off with a nail brush, pointing to John Andrew as the main reason he didn’t make the replacement rung for big matches at the business end of last season. Pointing to himself as the man he should be compared to and the person responsible for improving his performance.

“I wouldn’t say I’m harsh on myself, I’m very realistic, I wouldn’t like to make excuses for certain things happening or not hitting my performance.

“So I took that on the chin myself, I reviewed it hard and knew I wasn’t where I needed to be for those big games, so I wasn’t blaming anybody else.

I had to see it as an opportunity to improve and I did.  I didn’t make any excuses, I took it on the chin. That’s rugby, it happens and you just have to get on with it – you live and you learn or you crash and you burn.”

McBurney paved his route back into the senior matchday squad by captaining Ulster A to a win over their Leinster counterparts last weekend. It’s an outcome the province hopes will propel them beyond the disappointments of a stuttering restart brought to a halt by crushing defeats to Leinster and Toulouse.

sean-reidy-adam-mcburney-and-marty-moore John Dickson / esportif/UlsterRugby/INPHO Sean Reidy, Adam McBurney and Marty Moore at training in Kingspan Stadium last month. John Dickson / esportif/UlsterRugby/INPHO / esportif/UlsterRugby/INPHO

The road back to the big stage starts at home to Benetton this evening, with McBurney waiting behind Rob Herring as Dan McFarland has been able to send out a near-first-choice pack skippered by Iain Henderson.

Ian Madigan is again left out of the matchday squad despite injury to Billy Burns. With Bill Johnston among the replacements, the versatile Michael Lowry takes up the 10 shirt to form an exciting hub of a home-grown backline — John Cooney aside —as 21 and 22-year-old Stewart Moore and James Hume form the centres.

Craig Gilroy takes up the right wing to complete a back three with Rob Lyttle and fullback Jacob Stockdale.

“It’s bitterly disappointing to lose those  games,” McBurney says of the Pro14 final and the Champions Cup quarter-final.

“It’s important we don’t forget it. We can park it, but whenever it comes into the season and we’re digging deep, we have to remember that hurt and that hurt will push us forwards and we’ll do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“If you forget about it, you won’t learn from it, so we park it and we move on, but when we need that hurt, we’ll use it.


15. Jacob Stockdale
14. Craig Gilroy
13. James Hume
12. Stewart Moore
11. Rob Lyttle
10. Michael Lowry
9. John Cooney

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rob Herring
3. Marty Moore
4. Sam Carter
5. Iain Henderson (Capt.)
6. Matthew Rea
7. Sean Reidy
8. Marcell Coetzee


16. Adam McBurney
17. Eric O’Sullivan
18. Gareth Milasinovich
19. David O’Connor
20. David McCann
21. Alby Mathewson
22. Bill Johnston
23. Louis Ludik


15. Jayden Hayward
14. Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara
13. Ignacio Brex
12. Marco Zanon
11. Monty Ioane
10. Paolo Garbisi
9. Dewaldt Duvenage (Capt),

1. Cherif Traore
2. Hame Faiva
3. Marco Riccioni
4. Marco Lazzaroni
5. Federico Ruzza
6. Sebastian Negri
7. Abraham Steyn
8. Toa Halafihi


16. Gianmarco Lucchesi
17. Nicola Quaglio
18. Simone Ferrari
19. Niccolò Cannone
20. Eli Snyman
21. Giovanni Pettinelli
22. Callum Braley
23. Edoardo Padovani

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discuss the provinces’ 2020/21 starts, the South African-infused Pro16, and the schools-versus-clubs dynamic in Ireland

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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