So a demented season of Ulster Rugby has finally died with the last of its players bowing out on the international stage and bench. Some unexpectedly were resurgent like 1F with a workmanlike performance against the Aussies whilst others stagnated in the background like extras without a role. The kids that are leaving for a change in scenery like Neil Best showed glimpses in the CC of what we may miss/rue in the coming season.
The Southern Hemisphere season now blends into the fading Northern Hemisphere one with little respite for some players. For me my highlight of the global season has arrived in the shape of the Currie Cup. No its not an Indian sub continent try fest but the South African Provincial competition which merrily chugs along minus its international players and none the worse for it.
There are a few ELVs in this seasons competition but on the evidence of Friday night’s game between the Sharks and Western Province the game remains basically the full blooded, head on, dynamic running, hard hitting competition I love to watch. The only blot was with the game finely poised at 25 all and a few minutes to go, the referee referred an incident of foul play to the TMO, one of the new ELV’s. The incident came about because a Sharks player attempted to collapse the maul, slowly subsiding like a drowning man under a welter of WP boots as the maul stayed airborne. A frustrated WP player stamped on the head of the hapless Shark resulting in a match winning penalty to the Sharks.
Now what I find ludicrous about this is that the new ELV, allowing collapsing of the maul, is downright dangerous as we saw in this incident. It only requires one defender to grab the shirt of a player driving the maul and use his body weight to bring it down.
In this instance the maul stayed upright, the result being the player attempting to collapse it was effectively run over. Frustration at trying to keep the maul going forward and upright whilst some plonker lies prone on the ground or is hanging unto your shirt collar is understandable. Expect more incidents like this one with TMO’s holding the game up yet further whilst they inspect incidents of this nature, apparently that’s what happened in the Bulls game yesterday with a 3 minute delay for a TMO foul play incident which was inconclusive, zzzzzzzzzzzzzz!.
Meanwhile back at the Branch the newcomers, at least some of them, plus the bread and butter boys were back in harness training like billy’o. So we’re led to believe anyway, with the new director of coaching operations Matt Williams leading the tracksuits. Breaking news is that Neil ‘make a cup of tea at the ruck before I pass’ Doak is back in harness as Ulster skills coach. Expect Paul Marshall, under Doaky’s tutelage to think at least twice before he passes the ball!
It’s all change this season with Ravers undergoing surgery in the New Year and terrace dwellers being panicked by UR marketing zealots into taking out new mortgages on their terrace spots due to redevelopment. I may just have to miss the latter part of the season and confine myself to a trip to Rome in February and Paris depending on what way the Heiny draw is scheduled.
I ain’t in a position to buy a season ticket at the moment. I am on my hols in a week’s time and can’t afford another loan for a season ticket. (More on that later in the blog).
There is a sense of impending revolution but also nagging doubt that there is, ‘plus ca change’ at Ulster with David Humphreys donning his suit in place of his tracksuit as Director of Operations. (DoO). The UAFC site was awash in intrigue with potential ‘conflict of interest’ speculation over the new DoO’s business links with Cornerflag. Naturally one faction on the board didn’t want this discussed whilst another faction featuring the exotically labelled Captain Chaos , (how many more captains can this board take?) wanted to delve in detail into what the Humph had or hadn’t done to alleviate, ‘conflict of interest’ concern.
Personally I can take or leave it, I’m sure the new DoO will hopefully bring a freshly laundered approach to UR. There is a feeling of staleness about the place that requires a new broom to sweep away some of the complacency that permeates everything UR does off the pitch.
The UAFC board goes from strength to strength with such intrigue and topics such as ‘Do Our Soles Exist?’ by Zippy
‘I would like to answer this important question….but I suspect I might get banned from the board’ posts Bongo.
‘Dare you’ responds Zippy.
‘No. Dubber would shout at me’ replies Bongo.
Well there you have it, I’m on holiday shortly.
I will be taking a few days in Normandy reconnecting with my inner self on D-Day beaches and ancient towns with tapestries in them before travelling further south in search of sun, chilling out and vino. It is be hoped that the 3rd annual UR supporters in France AGM will take place as usual in the swimming pool with its CoC Le Paul conducting the agenda in exemplary manner. There is no agenda but the day long conference should make mention of rugby at some stage, before or after several gallons of liquid are consumed to combat the effects of dehydration in a baking sun.
Last year there were several rugby coaching sessions at the back of the gite with the Dutch being the main beneficiaries of my rugby knowledge, being taught everything I knew in just over 2 seconds flat. This year my daughter will bring some assistance having helped coached special needs lads up at Glencreag and the Newforge taggers for the tag tournament held at Newforge a couple of Saturdays ago. I called in briefly to watch proceedings and was heartened to see so many youngsters with physical disabilities and learning difficulties expressing themselves through sport.
Next years tourney will be in Worcester and the kids and the coaches are all up for it. Sadly I have to report that one, Andrew Trimble failed to show up on the Saturday having reportedly had little faith in his adopted team from Coleraine going anywhere. As it happened his adopted team did very well in his absence. Lets hope Andy shows more faith and a bit more incisiveness in his other adopted team – Ulster!!!!
There were few highlights in the season last year on the pitch though the Llanelli and Dragons games at Ravers and the Glaws game away showed glimpses of what Ulster are capable of.
Off the pitch there were precious few too but at Glasgow post match, Neil Best, having been prompted by those rather too cheerful Grousebeaters enquired if I was Ballpark. I denied everything! I just wasn’t too sure what Neil’s interest was. If you look at the photo you can see why I was a little chary about declaring my fictional credentials.
Mention must go the FRU Awards and that other fictional icon Dewi Barnes. A well organised event and the irrepressible Dewi was in full flight as ever. I discovered, having tapped some info from another iconic figure Tighthead Prod, that Barnesy had been a hooker in his previous life. This would explain his favourite pictorial pose showing him suspended crucifix style between two hefty professional rugby players. It was of course a pleasure to meet Proddy having corresponded with him in vitriolic manner by pm over the past seasons.
Putting names to faces and vice versa is always something of a shock and at the awards I found myself crushed between a former Tighthead and second row, the jam in a sandwich if you like.
This got me wondering whether Tighthead Prod doesn’t need an alter ego, say a Loosehead Taig with Dewi Barnes making up the remainder of the front row. The rest of my team might feature two Second Row Unionists, (SRU’s) an SDLP No.8 and two Sinn Fein Flankers (SFF’s), First Minister and Deputy First Minister, representing OFMDFM naturally, at fly half and pivot respectively whilst two Alliance centres would form a midfield partnership. With a couple of PUPs on the wing and Hugh Orde at full back policing the defensive line, my only dilemma would be choice of referee. Maybe former rugby man Robin Eames, who seems to wile away his days mediating rather than meditating,
Naturally I would need suitable opponents, say a team of Technical Disposal Officers from Belfast City Council who could dispatch that lot efficiently or even a UAFC XV led by Captain Chaos!. If you have a team that could be more than a match for my Provincial Political XV, then post them in.
I forgot I need a venue. The Sinn Fein flankers wanted to play it at the Maze but the rest of team preferred somewhere less controversial. The two PUPs suggested Windsor, whilst Dewi Barnes, ever quick to spot an opportunity wanted to play it at a neutral venue in Barbados. As manager of this team I am still deciding on a venue, though to my mind the roundabout at Tillysburn would suitably showcase this event.
So send in your representative XV from whatever walk of life you decide they come from and if I can achieve a suitable number of entries to make it a competition then I’ll see if Dewi will rustle up an FRU T-shirt as a prize to be presented at a suitable moment in the season.
Au Revoir mes enfants terribles!!!!!
BACK IN AUGUST but may keep you posted from France.