A MILLION MILES DOWN A SLOW ROAD
Subsequent inspection of the settings showed it hadn’t lied when it said 7.30a.m.
They hid their annoyance pretty well and gamely gathered the numerous sections of the Sunday Times before offering me a bag as protection for the newsprint from the pouring rain. With competition from the garage on Sunday mornings they can ill afford to turn valued and long time customers away.
This morning the weather forecasters have managed to get it right, they always do when rain is on the agenda. Hence I’m sat at the computer finishing off this week’s blog, a feel good factor coursing through my veins from Ulster’s continued success on both battle fronts.
It’s changed times when we are deemed clear favourites to win at Rodney Parade, until recently a graveyard for the ambitions of Ulster teams. The bookies rarely get it wrong and their odds were only out on the margin of Ulster’s victory.
I recorded the game on BBC 2 NI and watched it on Scrum V. It was interesting to hear the differing views of respective commentators on each channel.
BBC Wales commentators were fulsome in their praise of Ulster’s resources and strength in depth from the bench and they enjoyed the game in general.
Never thought I’d hear Welsh commentators praise Ulster, but then there was an obvious gulf in class between the teams despite the closeness of the scores at the end of the first half.
By contrast for Gusher and Constable there was a scrappy game in evidence, especially the second half, when errors crept into Ulster’s backline that perhaps originated from them taking the foot off the pedal in terms of concentration.
Like the RTE panel on the subsequent evening watching Leinster subdue an insipid Cardiff, there was little to be carried away with. The Dragons unlike Cardiff put up a spirited fight before succumbing to the inevitable collapse in the face of pressure in all areas of the game.
Frighteningly and despite the lapses of concentration Ulster were still 6 tries to one better off.
What has happened to the Welsh regions? They are all but out of the Heineken and Cardiff and the Dragons struggling badly in RABO Pro 12.
Interestingly the Ospreys are the only one of the regions to have fully embraced the regional concept and as a result appear consistently the strongest of them.
You Cannot Win if You do not Play
Sitting in front of the computer screen, it can seem like a blank canvas. Song lyrics are often a source of inspiration to me.
Words of loneliness and feelings of isolation describing the country boy arriving in the big city, could equally describe the predicament of the pro rugby player in a foreign land with a contract and no game.
An injury or an alien culture can smash those dreams and turn them into a living hell of entrapment and loss of self esteem.
‘I came on my own and felt much like you, I thought I was keen and knew what to do, but everything burned and fell from my hand, I had to turn back and build a new plan.’
There must have been a few players Ulster signed over the years, the names of Pfister, Kershaw, the De Chazal roll off the tip of a cluttered conveyor belt, who dreamed the dream of playing for a big team only to see ambitions thwarted on the altar of mediocrity.
‘Can I win if you do not play?’
If you’re not capable of playing at the requisite level you have little chance of winning. So many foreign players came through Ulster’s revolving door when Mike Reid was in charge.
So many players who failed to reach the standards required through lack of experience and ability who were promoted as titans they never were.
There were exceptions in players like Robbie Kempson, (the Reverent), Warren Brosnihan and Ryan Constable but mostly it was a steady procession of also-rans who came and went with a frightening regularity.
Those days have gone now, to be replaced with a specific prototype of player who fits the Ulster mould, one who will buy into the culture and team ethic. .
It started with a prop and a back rower and began in the dying days of MR’s reign with the signing of Robbie Diack and BJ Botha.
The quality multiplied with the advent of Dr. Humphreys in a key director type role with players being released who did not fit and quality signings recruited.
Love on Fire!
Preparations in the Parky bunker for last Friday’s Scotstoun ‘thriller’ seemed prosaic by comparison to Love stadium where the Love family prepared for a ‘home’ game by draping the fireside and wall mounted big screen with Norn Iron flags.
Had they risk assessed this, were the fire brigade consulted?
Consternation reigned amongst the Love’s facebook faithful as photos of this iconic but slightly cramped stadium were posted showing a somewhat bright red glow behind one of the flags where the fire was supposed to be.
One assumes it was alright on the night and no flegs went up like a twelfth bonfire conflagration.
Meanwhile at the Parky bunker in Ballygobackwards, preparations consisted of a swift clean of the floor, dust down and a few beers purchased in anticipation of a feast of running rugby.
Sadly it turned out otherwise with many punters I know expressing the grim satisfaction that they hadn’t made the trip to watch the game.
I know Ron Spark and myself watching the horrendous conditions in the first half from the comfort of Parky’s leather sofas were barely more animated than Rip Van Winkle.
This is of course rather unfair on the players who actually had to go out and play rugby in the rain.
Credit too, to the Ulster fans who made Scotstoun a sell out and raised a noise during the game.
I predicted Glasgow’s forwards, as tradition demands, would make life uncomfortable for Ulster for a while but ultimately with so many injuries to in the squad the weegies lack of strength in depth was their undoing.
Ulster have in times past have fallen foul of such hurdles but again their pedigree told in winning rather more comfortably than the score might suggest.
An American in Glasgow
Good to receive the views of American Ulster fan Michelle who travelled to Scotstoun in the company of the FRU top brass. Her report not unexpectedly wilted in mental inspiration as the evening wore on, no doubt due to the presence of certain liquid substances.
It was interesting to see the comparisons with Wisconsin’s very own ‘cheeseheads’. These are American football’s Green Bay Packer fans and they are not unlike Ulster fans in that they are somewhat unfashionable but with a unique identity within our respective sports.
My cousins are living breathin’ Packer fans and will be pleased to see another link with the old world when I send them Michelle’s findings.