Ulster Rugby today announced the signings Niall O’Connor and Rob Herring for the 2012/13 season.
The pair will add significant depth to the squad, which will also be bolstered by fellow new recruits Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson.
A graduate of the Phoenix Ulster Academy, O’Connor returns to the club having enjoyed a one year spell with Connacht. The 24 year old established himself as the first choice flyhalf in Galway and produced a number of fine displays throughout the season. The highlight of his campaign was the 9-8 win over Harlequins, in which he kicked all his side’s points to help record a first ever Heineken Cup win for the Western province.
During his time with Ulster, O’Connor made 51 appearances and scored 212 points. He will compete for the starting flyhalf position with Ireland U20 captain Paddy Jackson and South Afican International Ruan Pienaar.
Irish-qualified hooker Rob Herring will arrive in Belfast from Western Province, where he was involved in their Vodacom Cup squad. The 22 year old South African enjoyed a brief stint with London Irish before returning to his native South Africa.
The 16st 3lbs hooker joined the London Irish Academy in 2009 and made his senior debut against Northampton in May 2010. He will provide competition for Rory Best, Nigel Brady and Niall Annett.
Ulster Director of Rugby, David Humphreys, commented on the signings: “We are continuing to build our squad depth and the additions of Niall and Rob will further enhance our ability to compete over the course of a gruelling season.
“Niall went away and gained a year’s experience playing with Connacht and he has now come back to challenge Paddy and Ruan for the number 10 jersey. Rob is a typical South African forward who is very physical and is an accurate set piece operator. He is Irish-qualified and is a very ambitious individual who will thrive in our training environment,” said Humphreys.
O’Connor is delighted to be returning to his home Province and feels his game has been improved by the stint in Galway. “I got a fair bit of game time down there and I’d like to thank Eric and his staff for that. I gained more experience and feel I have improved as a player over the past season. But when the possibility arose to move back up to my home club, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity as Ulster are one of the best sides in Europe,” he said.
“It was great watching my mates do so well in the Heineken Cup last season. I’m looking forward to getting back to training next week to see them all again. I’m not thinking too far ahead but I’ll get pre-season under my belt and then hopefully I’ll get a run out in the friendlies and I’ll take it from there,” concluded O’Connor.
The signing of O'Connor was also confirmed by Connacht Rugby:
Following an approach from Ulster Rugby to re-sign 24yr old Niall O'Connor, Head Coach Eric Elwood met the player and an agreement was made to release Niall early from his two year contract.
With Miah Nikora, Matthew Jarvis and Academy star Jack Carty in situ, and the imminent arrival of Dan Parks, Connacht are well served at outhalf for next season.
Speaking of the move Niall said:
"I am very grateful to Eric and everyone at Connacht Rugby for making me feel so welcome this year and though I'm happy to be moving back to my home province I will miss being part of the club, especially with the Heineken Cup returning to Galway next season."
"I have enjoyed my time in Connacht and made a lot of great friends. They are team on the up and wish everyone every success next year."
Hailing from Limavady, Co. Derry, Niall will be re-joining the Ulster side where he earned 51 caps after gaining his first academy contract in 2007.
Niall joined Connacht at the start of the 2011/12 season on a two year deal and to date has appeared 20 times for the province, including five of Connacht's Heineken Cup pool games. He has scored 119 points this season and his last appearance was against Edinburgh in February where his personal haul of 11 points helped to secure an important Connacht victory in the Sportsground.
Head Coach Eric Elwood wished him well saying:
"Niall was instrumental in our first ever Heineken Cup campaign and has been a terrific player for us this season. Both on and off the pitch Niall has been an absolute professional a great asset to our club and we'd all like to wish him the very best in his return to Ulster."