Pro12 Preview: Ulster

Can the Belfast-based side improve on last year's play-off loss?

Pro12 Preview: Ulster

Les Kiss (Director of Rugby with Ulster Rugby) with the Pro12 trophy Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The Pro 12 begins this weekend, as all four Irish provinces look to match Connacht's feat from last season in winning the title.

Ulster will look to return to the play-offs in Les Kiss' first full season in charge, but how are they set up ahead of the new campaign?

Last Season

A defeat to Leinster in the RDS ended Ulster’s season in the play-offs. Having finished fourth in the league, Ulster were beaten by 12-points by their domestic rivals. Les Kiss’s team won 14 of their 22 games, and took advantage of their losses, by earning losing bonus points in five of their eight losses.

New Signings

New Zealand’s Charles Piutau and South Africa’s Marcell Coetzee will add a touch of class to both the backline and back-row at the Kingspan Stadium. Rodney Ah You, formerly of Connacht, has also signed for the Belfast-based side.

Key Player

Charles Piutau could bring the same impact to Belfast that Bundee Aki brought to Galway. The 24-year-old committed last September to joining Ulster this season. Such was the New Zealand Rugby hierarchy’s displeasure at the move that he was frozen out of the Auckland Blues team. Piutau moved to Wasps for a season and that could be crucial for Ulster. A season playing in the northern hemisphere means Piutau should hit the ground running in Belfast.

Piutau had been in outstanding from in pre-season. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Brian Little

Season Hopes

Piutau and Coetzee, along with the returning Tommy Bowe should see Ulster maintain their play-off spot from this season. After finishing fourth last season, the Belfast-based team will look to try and finish in the top-two to guarantee a home play-off.

Breakout Player

Jacob Stockdale only made his debut in January for Ulster, but he made six appearances in the second half of the season. The centre turns 20 on September 3rd, and could see his minutes on the pitch increase with some players leaving during the season on international duty. He has yet to score a try a senior level. Expect him to score plenty this year. 

Domestic Derbies

7/10/16: Connacht (A)

28/10/16: Munster (H)

23/12/16: Connacht (H)

31/12/16: Leinster (A)

15/4/16: Munster (A)

6/5/16: Leinster (H)