Bit of a rush after work to get to Ravers for this one but I did manage to find time to sample the wares in the food village as I treated myself to a late tea.
All worked very well and the food village is working a treat as it is rapidly becoming the place to be seen before the match and I managed to bump into friends, old and new, in quick succession. Still wonder how it’s going to fare when the rains come down but hopefully plans are in place to cover up as it’d be a shame to see these pre-season efforts go to waste later in the season.
Also managed to find time to sign up at the URSC Stand and pleased to report it was busy again with Simon Danielli and Dan the Man drawing the crowds this time round with a few signing up for Galway trip and Biarritz outing so good to see that their hard work is bearing some fruit.
Unfortunately, while things seem to be falling into place off the pitch a nag at the back of my mind that things just aren’t quite there yet on it as Ulster continued their pre-season stutters struggling to close out a match they should have won comfortably.
There were plenty of positives in individual displays but frustratingly for me they don’t seem to have gelled yet as a team and despite the arrival of the hugely impressive Wannenburg and Muller there still seems to be problems up front as it looked like a collection of talented individuals rather than a cohesive pack. I expeced Ulster to dominate up front with a bit more finesse but unfortunately they continued to struggle late into the game.
With Ferris and Wannenburg bashing and smashing in the opening twenty Ulster should have had more possession but unfortunately no-one was keeping an eye on the ball and it was stolen a few times from under our noses so maybe the back row balance needs to be looked at, and here, like an old broken record, I still think Diack is our best option at 8 being the more natural footballer. However it’s a nice problem to have, add Henry, hopefully Pollock, and the ever improving Anderson to the mix and I expect plenty of options will be viewed before we get to the Heiny so no need to get over concerned.
Second row looked good with Barker looking bigger and better and Caldwell performing with authority when he came on. One little head stagger for Ryan towards the end but he certainly looks very hungry for match time. Throw in the returning Tuohy and the battle to partner Muller is hotting up and we haven’t even started yet!
The front row looked good despite some iffy enough reffing of the set piece with an absolute cheap shot on Fitzpatrick when he had to go off. Rory played like a man possessed and covered every blade of grass in the opening 40 and was my player of the night. Court and Botha will only strengthen a good enough scrum so no worries there. A few yips in the line out early on, but quickly corrected and it looked pretty sound throughout the night.
No great problems in the backs, and again there’s plenty more players to return. Porter and O’Connor are looking a good combination with Porter looking particularly nuggety. Both have probably played their way into starting spots next week. Gilroy was quiet but had a good enough game and Seymour had a strong showing looking powerful with the ball in hand. Whitten and Cave are looking very reliable and it was good to see Darren get on the score sheet running a nice line to go over.
Shiels was unlucky to get a knock soon after coming on and I was disappointed, and surprised, that McIlwaine didn’t get much of a chance but the star of the backs was undoubtedly the man on trial, Adam D’Arcy. The young Aussie certainly had a début to remember with a good few jinking runs, making ground on most occasions, with one particularly enthralling run setting up Seymour for his try. There are still a few questions over his tackling and kicking from hand but it’d be a harsh critic that found too much wrong with his performance.
So, quite a few positives on an individual basis but a few improvements to be worked on before we entertain the Ospreys next weekend. Looking forward to it and it may be the end of September before we hit our straps but I think there’ll be good enough games on the way.
Tickets are still available for the Ospreys game click here for details on ulsterrugby.com.
Thanks to rugbypicture.co.uk for the article photo go here to view more pictures from the night.