The Offload: Young Will Hickey making progress

George Taylor is latest player to retire from professional rugby due to brain injury

Will Hickey in action for St Michael’s during the 2020 Leinster Cup. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Will Hickey in action for St Michael’s during the 2020 Leinster Cup. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Impressive Hickey

Former age-grade Irish internationals enjoyed some notable achievements over the weekend in a European rugby context.

Will Hickey (20), a former Leinster Under-19 captain and Irish Under-19s number eight came off the bench to make his Ospreys debut in their defeat to Racing 92 in the Heineken Champions Cup. The ex St Michael’s schoolboy is a member of the Ospreys academy set-up.

He initially accepted a three month trial at the behest of the Ospreys’ director of rugby Mike Ruddock to move to the Welsh franchise and was subsequently offered a place in the club’s player pathway programme while studying engineering at Swansea University.

Hickey impressed Ospreys’ coach Toby Booth who said: “He (Hickey) is very diligent and very committed, and has had some real impactful moments in training since he has been here.” The young Irish prospect has played regularly for the A side but was finally given a brief chance on Saturday.

Hooker Adam McBurney was a try scorer in Edinburgh’s defeat to London Irish in the Challenge Cup. The 25-year-old from Ballymena was a member of the Ireland team that lost to England in the 2016 Under-20 World Championship final. He graduated from the Ulster academy and made 35 appearances for the province at senior level before agreeing to join Edinburgh.

Central to his decision is the fact that although he played for Ireland from under-18 to under-20 levels, he qualifies to represent Scotland through a grandmother from Lanarkshire.

In the same tournament former Irish Under-19, Cork’s Eoghan Barrett (22), was a second half replacement for Pau in their defeat to a Brive side, coached by former Lions and Ireland international Jeremy Davidson and who included Daniel Brennan, son of Trevor.

Back in the Champions Cup the 24-year-old Wexford born, former Munster academy scrumhalf Jack Stafford came tantalisingly close to adding to his four games for Harlequins on Friday night but ended up as an unused replacement in the London club’s thrilling last gasp win at Cardiff.

Ulster backline sparkle

What an absolute treat it was to watch Ulster’s backline - only one player, outhalf Billy Burns (27) is over the age of 25 – produce some brilliant individual and collective moments during the Champions Cup victory over the Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.

Outside centre James Hume has justifiably commandeered the headlines this season with a series of outstanding performances, and this was another good one but for once he was arguably outshone by a few of his young teammates in a victory guarantees the Irish province a place in the Round of 16, a week early.

Man of the match Michael Lowry produced a sublime display at fullback, scoring two tries but in truth everything he touched turned to gold for his team. Robert Baloucoune was brilliant on his return from injury while this was arguably Stewart Moore’s best game for Ulster. Ethan McIlroy had some nice touches on limited opportunity.

A word for too Billy Burns who varied and ran the game beautifully while his 20-year-old halfback partner Nathan Doak have a very mature and assured display. That sort of collective and individual excellence augurs well for Ulster and Ireland rugby.

Taylor takes tough decision

The 25-year-old Edinburgh centre George Taylor is the latest player to retire from professional rugby due to brain injury, the exact same issue that also forced his brother to give up the sport.

George Taylor, a former Scotland age-grade international hasn’t featured for Edinburgh this season due to concussion. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho
George Taylor, a former Scotland age-grade international hasn’t featured for Edinburgh this season due to concussion. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

George Taylor, a former Scotland age-grade international hasn’t featured for Edinburgh this season due to concussion and the centre has now made the decision to hang up his boots. Taylor’s brother had previously retired from the game due to “head knocks”.

Taylor made 38 appearances for the capital club, scoring six tries, since making his professional debut against Munster in November 2018. He said: “I’ve had a history of head injuries that have set me back for months, so after a lot of discussion with management and family, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should step away and move on to other opportunities.

“It’s certainly not been a quick decision. It’s been thought through ever since I got a concussion while in pre-season back in August. It’s been on my mind and I’ve made some sacrifices to try and prepare for life after rugby.

“I had a long conversation with my family prior to Christmas and they shared their opinions, while not trying not to make a decision for me. My brother also retired due to head knocks and he gave me some good insight into how he was afterwards.”

One of Taylor’s favourite rugby memories came at Thomond Park. He said: “One of my proudest moments has got to be making my debut against Munster, playing against some huge names in the game and at one of the most famous stadiums in world rugby.”

Quote of the week

Like to apologise about my action towards the referee and officials, (to) kids who were watching. Absolutely not needed in this game. Emotions were high and that is certainly not an excuse for my actions. Definitely will take the loss on the chin and will be looking at myself.”

– Bundee Aki apologised on social media after confronting referee Mathieu Raynal at the Sportsground.

By the numbers

22.85: The average age of Ulster’s starting backline for their Champions Cup game against the Northampton Saints

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