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Ulster statement: Sutherland deal and talks with a Springboks prop

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Steve Haag/PA Images via Getty Images)

Dan McFarland’s Ulster have confirmed they have signed Rory Sutherland on a short-term deal, adding that negotiations are at an advanced stage with a Springboks prop believed to be Steven Kitshoff. It was Thursday night when it emerged that the Irish province was on the verge of capturing Sutherland, the 2021 Lions tour pick.

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He had become a free agent the previous day after the company holding all the player contracts at crisis-hit Worcester was liquidated at an insolvency court in England and former Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman tweeted the next day that a deal with Ulster was set to be announced.

That recruitment od Sutherland was confirmed on Saturday just hours before Ulster were due to host Ospreys in their latest URC match. Kitshoff wasn’t named in the club’s media release, but the 2019 World Cup winner – who currently plays for the Stormers – is believed to be the South African player referenced in the statement.

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It read: “The calibre of the Ulster Rugby front row has been strengthened for the long-term with the recruitment of world-class props to supplement and support the development of the province’s young homegrown players over the next four years.

“Negotiations are at an advanced phase with a player that is a proven winner on the biggest stage, who will join the province next season on a three-year deal following Rugby World Cup 2023.

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“Ahead of this highly anticipated arrival in Belfast, equally hard-edged scrummager – Scotland international and British and Irish Lion, Rory Sutherland – will join the province from next week on a short-term deal to reinforce squad depth at loosehead. Both signings not only provide significant international quality to the squad but will also play a key role in developing Ulster’s senior and academy front rows in the years to come.”

Ulster boss McFarland said: “We have an exciting stable of young Irish-qualified props at Ulster, so to be able to support their development alongside some world-class operators is great news for everyone associated with Ulster and Irish rugby.

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“As a club that is intent on consistently competing for championships, we are always looking to add to and improve our squad. This includes recruiting players to be a part of the Ulster Rugby family but most importantly supporting and driving the development of young players within our pathway.

“We look forward to welcoming Rory into the squad next week and making further announcements on our recruitment for next season very soon.

“Myself, Roddy Grant, Jonny Bell and Jonny Petrie have all worked with Rory at some point in his career and know he will add quality on the field and bring an invaluable level of experience and mindset that our young props can squeeze every drop out of.

“Having Rory’s level of competitiveness at scrum training is going to test and teach the very best we have, something as a scrum coach and former prop I have experienced first-hand and am now excited to be a part of.

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“Whilst we are all looking forward to welcoming Rory to Ulster, we are also mindful of the very difficult situation many players and staff at Worcester Warriors find themselves in and we wish them the best for whatever the future holds.”

Sutherland, who will be named in next week’s Ulster squad to travel to South Africa for the URC fixtures against the Lions and Sharks, added: “My thanks go out to everyone in the rugby community who has supported me and all those at Worcester over the past while during what has been a heartbreaking time for players and staff alike.

“However, I’m looking forward to linking up with Ulster and getting stuck into the URC and the many familiar faces and rivals that it will bring. The club is on a quest for silverware and I’ll do all I can this season to play my part in that ambition.”

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