As I sit at the keyboard this Sunday morning 14th October 2012 on eve of yet another year of my life disappearing into history, grey skies once again pervade the landscape. Dark and sulking as they were over 3 weeks ago when many of us where still coming to terms with the shocking news of the passing of Nevin Spence, his older brother and father in a farm accident.
The landscape physically and metaphorically has changed since that fateful event. What remains of the Spence family have retreated to the privacy of their own lives which incidentally encompassed further tragedy with the death of a close relative of Mrs. Spence.
The Ulster team has picked itself up, inspired by the bravery and courage shown by their former teammates mother and sisters.
Nevin Spence is remembered, now mostly privately amongst the team but also in a very public way with the initials NS embroidered into the shirts in an act of understated but dedicated remembrance.
On the pitch the team have, I am in no doubt, been part inspired by the memory of their popular teammate, mixing a ruthless edge in the forwards and a skilful, flair fuelled style in the backs.
Since the tragedy the win ratio stands 3-0 and with each victory comes a sense of post mortem, rugby style, of what has been left on the pitch. Thus, even with the thrashing of Cardiff in the Arms Park, there was a feeling that Cardiff were not very good on the night.
A nil beating of Connaught at Ravenhill was tinged with slight depression because the try bonus point went awry. Whilst Castres being hammered in the Heineken on Friday night at a heaving Ravenhill, came tagged with a large ‘phew’ label as the try bonus point came at the death when it seemed lost.
To achieve a sense of perspective here, where once we might have been accepted of a 3 point win against any French opposition as evidence of our decent game we, (collectively supporters, coach and media), are now expressing relief that we achieved a bonus try win.
How Times Have Changed.
Enjoy whilst it lasts is my mantra, as for sure, in the course of any one season no team continues to trundle along in epic style, winning all in front of them. That is not how sport works. Ulster will at some stage, before Christmas I reckon, taste defeat and with it the acceptance that all things don’t remain bright and beautiful all season long.
Whilst it is right to be critical, even when we’re winning and well, it also should come replete with a spoiler which should read something along the lines of, enjoy your meal, the bill comes later.
Mark My Words
A brief word about the coach here, because initially in the media there was a less than welcoming paragraph or two about him. He was deemed to have been somehow responsible for the demise of a relatively successful coach, who achieved near martyred status when it was announced he would be seceded.
With Anscombe’s run of wins and adopted style of rugby the fans have been by and large won over to the new regime. The players appear to have bought into it.
The media of the southern variety continue to embroider vittels of praise with little vials of detriment such as the coach has big brother humph looking over his shoulder should results not go according to plan.
This is damming with faint praise along the lines of, we misread the first part of the appointment wrong when Humphreys was castigated as a sort of Brutus in the rugby locker room. Now with a fine run of wins under his belt Anscombe is apparently under pressure to keep up appearances.
I repeat, every team loses somewhere along the tracks of a season, it is how the derailment is dealt with that defines the season thereafter. Some teams never rejoin the race, others learn a lesson or two and move on. Ulster it is to be hoped accept they will lose at some stage and will return with greater endeavour.
The 3 Musketeers Go Home
Wednesday saw the arrival of the French wing of the URSC with a slightly changed squad from the last visit in November 2011. In was Jean Luc Mk. 2 as a replacement for Jean Luc Mk. 1 who was, like Stevie Ferris, a late withdrawal due to a back injury.
In too was Presidente Le Paul who whilst still recovering from injury was deemed fit enough to travel, ensuring a swift transfer through airports.
We arranged to meet up at the Errigle on Thursday night to hear the American singer songwriter legend Steve Forbert.
Steve who I hear you say? Yes well he’s a legend to those in the know if you like.
Those aware of the great man include the editor of this esteemed site and what a super set he missed, just Steve and his ageing guitar, the harmonica and a bit of oddball repartee.
Pre match preambles consisted of a meal in Mount Ober golf club and then it was down to the ground for a few bevvies. A determination by Le Paul to reach a barrier on the Terrace early, foundered on the rocky shelf of the beer tent tables and some repartee with long lost friends.
When we finally made it to a packed terrace, Le Paul anchored firmly to the second barrier and the vicinity of its respective crew. Phil, Jean Luc Mk. 2, Ron the spark and ding dong were a little further along with me enjoying the atmosphere, with the crowd its usual acerbic self and in very fine voice.
By Saturday morning they were gone, headed for Dublin and home to France with voice boxes requiring some maintenance. I believe we may well see them for the Saints game back standing up for the Ulstermen. Bravo!!
See The SKY About to Rain
As I rattle the keyboards again late afternoon the all pervasive grey skies linger on like a drunk at a party.
Having spent a solid 4 hours ploughing (cycling) my way round the wet roads and drizzle stained landscape of County down for 65 miles I was hoping for light relief viewing the Toulouse Tigers game.
Regretfully I was left hoping or a game of rugby to break out. I wondered what excuse Richard Cockerill would conjure up this time to talk away his side’s lack of rugby nous.
The Tiger supporters continue to whinge because they were beaten. It is tiresome and cliché ridden and by and large uninformed. How can you explain Harlequins blow away Biarritz, despite a salary cap, a scrum half called Care and an Irishman running their team.
The Tigers continue to plug away with yesterday’s rugby, boshing premiership teams but tactically more naive in the European bear pit than a kamikaze pilot.
Outside it is Autumn, the leaves are falling exposing the threadbare barren fields and stone walls of the Mournes. The Heineken landscape is changing too, if the English have their way, it may become as barren as a Dromara field.