Bryn Cunningham and Maurice Field on Ulster's hopes for 2012-13

Ulster will begin the new season with a Pro12 game against Glasgow at Ravenhill on 31 August, live on BBC2 NI from 19:00 BST

The BBC Sport website caught up with regular BBC Sport NI rugby pundits Bryn Cunningham and Maurice Field to get their views on the prospects for the 2012/13 campaign.

Maurice Field (Ex-Ulster and Ireland):

Ulster have added quality players to their squad and with plenty of promising young talent coming through the ranks, competition for places is going to be fierce, which is a very healthy thing.

Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson are probably the standout signings, although it will also seem like a new start for Jared Payne, as he only played two full games last season.

Tommy Bowe
Tommy Bowe has joined Ulster from the Ospreys

The strength in depth of the squad is so much stronger than it was a couple of years ago and if the team plays to its potential, it bodes well for another good season.

Reaching the Heineken Cup final was beyond anyone's expectation last year, but that is now the benchmark and the players will be highly motivated to repeat that and even go one better.

Leinster have set the standard with the success they have enjoyed and have also set an example in the way they have introduced their young players to create competition for places.

There is a good blend of youth and experience and given the investment made in the squad a semi-final play-off place will be the minimum expectation for the Pro12 campaign.

The challenge for the coaches is to achieve the right balance between experience and youthful enthusiasm, but it's good for everyone to have someone putting pressure on them for their position.

Paddy Jackson is the obvious example of how a player can make the step up and establish himself in the team and there are plenty of others waiting for their chance, including Chris Farrell, Chris Cochrane, Peter Nelson, Jarleth Carey, Iain Henderson, Ali Birch and Lewis Stevenson.

Niall O'Connor has been running with a lot more confidence in the pre-season friendlies and if he takes his opportunity, he could make himself first-choice number 10.

Leinster and Munster are going to be Ulster's main challengers in the Pro12, but Glasgow should also be up there, and they will present a stern test in the first match of the campaign.

Their new coach Gregor Townsend intends introducing a more expansive game and while the Ospreys have lost a lot of players, they have a lot of the strong Welsh Under-19 side coming through.

From my understanding, Mark Anscombe is already bringing a more hard-edged mentality to the squad and everything is being worked on until it is done right.

He is an 'old-school' New Zealand coach and wants the players to train the way they play, with a greater degree of physicality.

Bryn Cunningham (Former Ulster full-back):

If the performances of Ulster's young players in pre-season are anything to go by, the squad is shaping up well and some of the senior members of the panel will be looking over their shoulders.

The physicality of the game and the demands of a long season mean that coaches now have to rotate their squads, whereas Ulster previously have had to try and play the same strong starting XV to compete on both European and domestic fronts.

Mark Anscombe
Mark Anscombe has brought greater physicality to Ulster's training

The coaching team will have set their targets out right at the beginning and a huge amount of planning will go into team selection.

It will all be about choosing the right team and the right combinations for each match, and resting the players at the right times.

I think new coach Mark Anscombe will select his teams more on the basis of who the opposition are on any given week and who is fit and on form.

It is very early to assess the impact that Mark will have, but already there has been a serious increase in the amount of contact and the physical element of training.

Mark has said that he is not interested in reputations, so it's a fresh start for everyone, and he will pick his side based on whoever is producing the goods.

Every position will be hotly contested, none more so than the back division, where Ulster can now boast an embarrassment of riches.

John Afoa will be more settled with a year under his belt, and we can expect another big season from him.

And it's already clear that Niall O'Connor's spell in Connacht has moved his game forward and he will be a strong contender for the number 10 shirt right from the off.

Progression in the Heineken Cup will again be a priority and although Ulster face some tough opposition, they have shown that they can mix it with the best in Europe.

I expect the three top Irish provinces to dominate the Pro12 competition.

Bryn Cunningham and Maurice Field were talking to BBC Sport NI's Richard Petrie

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