Ulster got their much needed win agaisnt Connacht last night but I still haven’t made up my mind if this was a good Ulster performance, an indifferent Connacht one or perhaps both sides just aren’t actually that good!
I wasn’t able to make it up to Ravers to worship with the rest of the Brethren due to “real life” work commitments but I did my best to create my own little Fortress at home with my own inflatable 2nd Barrier Crew, complete with flegs, a looping reel of inane chants and a scented candle of dodgy, dodgy underarm odour! Add in a tape of a couple of Henriettas behind me discussing their latest IKEA purchase, a drunk shouting out “For feck sake ref!”, a couple of schooners of freezing cold Heineken in plastic glasses and a few crass comments about Niall O’Connor from Dergman and it was just like being there!
As I donned my new “I FRU Ulster Rugby” hoodie (XL in black – only available on this site) and switched on the goggle box to watch the game, the thoughts going through my mind were not about Best, Ferris, Afoa or Marshall, but rather would the game keep me entertained enough not to turn over to Celebrity Come Dancing at half time. I’d thrown down the challenge ,would the teams live up to it?
It was touch and go for most of the first half as both teams went through a fairly subdued, and largely choreographed shuffle with no one really coming out with that killer move. Ferris looked OK but looked to be holding back in the final flourishes, Afoa showed nice hands but didn’t get ready to rumble in a pleasing enough début, but Best stole the show in a virtuoso performance covering all the dance floor with a barnstorming performance.
Wallace, Cave and Danielli showed nice flourishes and Gilroy nipped in with his dancing feet and nice lines to bag the only try of the half. A touch of class from the youngster even if he did get a huge assist from Trimble barging the opposition out of the way to open up the floor!
Like a scowling Craig, O’Sullivan, the studio guest on the Beeb,told it as it was at half time, being rightfully critical of both sides and it was touch and go if I’d still be around for the second half. However, I was stunned into inertia when Winker Watson revealed that Afoa is only going to be here for the Clermont match, having to return to New Zealand for a mates wedding. Seems extraordinary that we weren’t told this last week if true though others are saying that he’s heading back after Leicester so a little bit of clarity required?
The second half started at a higher tempo, well the first couple of minutes anyway, and a couple of surging drives from Tom Court saw our forgotten prop burrow over for Ulster’s second try, the conversion putting Ulster 12 points clear. The game was largely over and with thoughts turning to next weeks European encounters both teams started swapping out players from as early as the 50th minute.
The second half petered out, largely uneventful till Humphreys broke through a tiring defence for the final try and conversion to add some largely undeserved icing on the cake.
Ulster: (15-9): Simon Danielli, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy, Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall. (1-8): Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg, (16-23): Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Ian Porter, Nevin Spence, Adam D’Arcy.
Connacht: (15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Gavin Duffy (C), Dave McSharry, Brian Tuohy, Miah Nikora, Paul O’Donohoe. (1-8) Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, TJ Anderson, Eoghan Grace, George Naoupu. (16-23) Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Dylan Rogers, Dave Gannon, John Muldoon, Frank Murphy, Niall O’Connor, Matthew Jarvis.
I’d say both sides would be unhappy with the performances though the state Ulster were in it was always going to be about getting a result. In theory you would expect Ulster to struggle over the next two games, especially if Afoa is off home instead of Welford Road but there were small shoots of recovery evident in the miss firing Ulster side.
Afoa looks good in the scrum and around the field, Best is playing as well as ever and Ferris, Cave, Wallace and Tuohy are all inches off becoming the finished article, but there is still a indefinable sluggishness with the rest of the team. Hopefully it will be forgotten next week against Clermont at Ravers, but it could come back to hurt us at Welford the week after!
There is plenty of coverage of the game on line.
Full match here on BBC and highlights, courtesy of Rooster below.