IT WAS a case of replacing one Coleraine man with another for Ulster rugby coach Brian McLaughlin on Friday night.
For former Coleraine Inst pupil Conor Gaston (20) ably stepped into Andrew Trimble’s boots as Ulster triumphed in a tight game against Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill.
It was the 20-year-old’s first taste of Magner’s League rugby and he certainly didn’t let himself down, proving himself to be a hot prospect for the future.
Conor was one of four Ulster Academy stars drafted into the side, and he marked his debut with an excellent display.
His performances at regular fullback for both the Ulster Ravens and his club side Dungannon impressed McLaughlin.
And the coach was keen to single out the local lad after his performance on Friday night.
McLaughlin said: “All credit to Conor. He fitted in tonight, he was there where he needed to be, his work rate was excellent, he was in the right place to carry ball.
“And yes, there are a few wee rough edges to rub off and he knows that. But, for a first cap at this level he did well and not to make one single error was fantastic for him.”
The 20-year-old was also thrust into the media spotlight following his eyecatching debut.
He told reporters that he was nervous before the tie and paid tribute to the fans and the ‘wonderful atmosphere’ at Ravenhill.
“I just wanted to get my hands on the ball early and when it did come my way I wanted to make sure I did not mess up.
“It was great to get ball early on and it helped ease the nerves and boost my confidence.”
Gaston also admitted it was a huge step up from playing with the Ravens and Dungannon in the All Ireland League.
“It was definitely very tough.
“The intensity and tempo was really high and the physicality was huge. But I enjoyed it and I hope I will get the chance again.”
Gaston may well find he is not named in the extended panel ahead of the trip to Glasgow Warriors this weekend, given that Irish and Scottish international wingers, Andrew Trimble and Simon Danielli are due back in the Ulster fold - but to be displaced by players with over 60 international and 180 Ulster caps is no disgrace for a young player who has got over the biggest hurdle - making that first appearance.
BY NICHOLA FORGRAVE