Another award winning season for Matt?
Eleven days to go and the excitement is building. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have expressed an understated level of confidence about the coming season. No shouting from the rooftops but a generally good vibe of hope and excitement.
After the upheavals of the last eight months Williams appears to have bought well during the close season. Botha and Diack, in theory, should add a harder edge up front and the back line certainly looks exciting, if a little inexperienced at the elite end.
However it is two local lads, namely Paddy Wallace and Matt McCullough, that could have the most influence on Ulster’s season.
After a, personally, successful summer tour Paddy has it all to play for this season. In the matches against New Zealand and Australia Paddy showed that he was much more than an international bench warmer and has put him self very much in the frame as an international centre. There has never been any doubt to Paddy’s exquisite ball handling skills and over the last 12 months he has worked hard on his defensive game to become one of Ulsters leading tacklers. However it is his ability to spot the gap in broken play that has is particularly exciting for the coming year. With more broken play expected due to the ELV’s this could be the year when Paddy really makes his mark. To expect Paddy to command a back line like O’Driscoll, Giteau or Carter is a huge ask but this is the level he has to get to if Ulster are going to become competitive outside of Ravenhill.
Is he up to it? A year ago it could have been said that it would depend on how he started the season and if he played well and kept his confidence high then he should do well. This year he is beyond that. His confidence is there and locked in. What he needs to do now is move his team play and communication up a gear and start commanding that back line. If he does he may be Ulster’s best chance of a Lions player.
Matt McCullough has had a difficult couple of years with injuries and other off field distractions. However he turned things around last season and put in consistently hard and gritty performances to win The FRU Player of the Year award. Like the underrated Wilson before him Matt put in his work at the coalface, time after time, scrapping for the ball. While most people are looking forward to watching Diack and Ferris in tandem with An Other from Pollock, Dawson, Henry, Anderson and McCullough it is my expectation that it will be Matt who will be the ever present.
Matt has been working on his speed along with the rest of the squad (even Fitzy!) but it is at the lineout where he can make his mark. With the elevation of the importance of the lineout, Matt’s athletic ability in the air will be a prized asset particularly with the departure of Harrison and Wilson.
Having had the pleasure of speaking to Matt at The FRU Awards Night I can assure you that there is no one more determined to take advantage of any breaks that come his way.
Roll on the 15th.
Do you agree/disagree with Dewi’s assessment of the men to watch. Click here to leave a comment.
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