I am not an emotional man by nature though I would admit to have cried occasionally and made others weep, period. On Friday night, having moored up by the sofa with just my tin of Heineken for company, the TV in front of me and Ulster playing Northampton in Franklin Gardens, I had a little mild emotional moment.
Nothing very damp, mostly a small lump in my throat. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it as to why. In retrospect I realised that underneath my usual tension and nerves, I was mesmerised by the Ulster performance.
As yet another tackle came in from Ulster and Northampton crumpled in the face of the onslaught I realised they were making it look so easy. One hit in particular by Chris Henry just seemed reverberate as he wrapped up the Saint and turned him towards his (Henry’s) teammates.
It wasn’t easy of course, it was just that Ulster made it look effortless. There was no growling lips, forked eyebrows or pumping fists, just an almost visible smile as though they were enjoying themselves.
I suppose for a brief moment my mind slipped back a few years to the mid noughties when we struggled to impose our identity as a rugby team on the national conscience, living in the shadow of first Munster and latterly Leinster.
Yet here we were playing at a peak few thought possible a few years back and making it look like we were a natural born team. The transition, still ongoing to top rugby team, has been almost as effortless as the tackles last Friday night.
Many will not have seen the hard work behind it, the tough decisions that were made, (McLaughlin’s sideways move being one) or the trail of human feelings hurt in the name of progression. It is in the nature of professional sport that someone will lose, lose out or be surplus to requirements.
Nor is it fair to say a peak has been reached.
Not At All.
For all the plaudits that have come their way, the players will know that backing up a performance like that will be difficult. They will need to prove they can perform on this sort of plateau over a number of games and not just produce one off performances, as they did against the Tigers last season and at Thomond Park.
That is where I am confident they can be as good again, because there was an eerie confidence about their play that suggested the players were comfortable in what they were doing.
Northampton of course may arrive at Ravinghell with a diffident mindset and no doubt some of their players will have felt the humiliation of defeat in front of their own supporters. Northampton has a community feel about it like Belfast and no doubt the players will feel the opprobrium of losing from their own.
They might just arrive with a nothing to lose mentality which may at first prove awkward to overcome. Alternately the Saints will also be armed with a different game plan and quite likely a new set of half backs.
There will be nervous tension again on my part. There always is the fear of the Ulstermen suffering humiliation and defeat in their backyard.
Never rule it out, yet the belief is there, cohesiveness exudes in the teamwork, a fierce commitment to one another lurks beneath those benign exteriors.
There is of course the Nevin Spence factor simmering away beneath the surface and can’t be discounted as a motivating factor. Yet for all that the present sight of Ulster putting top sides to the sword has been built on firmer foundations than simple emotion and desire.
I am convinced we’ll follow this win up with another commanding performance which will whip any remaining doubts I have about Ulster’s durability into touch quicker than an Andrew Trimble tackle.
Having seen the Saints team for Saturday’s match, there is a suspicion that they have one eye on next week’s match against the Hairy Queens.
Whatever, they have changed the half backs as I suggested earlier in this piece and altered the back row. It remains to be seen whether it’s enough freshening up combinations to inject new energy into a team currently stuttering along.
I expect a tight game, hope the crowd back the team!
Boys Done Good
Talking of Andrew Trimble, I was pleased for him, having been dropped/scapegoated, if you wish, for the South Africa match, he has responded in the best possible way by putting in a performance.
Not that it will necessarily make much difference in kidneyscape but for the player at least and Ulster supporters, we know the boy’s still got it. Likewise Tom Court’s even shabbier treatment than Trimbles, he has responded emphatically and will focus on Ulster for the time being which is a good thought.
To a lesser extent Tuohy showed provincial form which has not translated into international level type performance. One has to wonder why these guys do not perform for Ireland the way they do for Ulster.
It’s not as if the Heineken is that much removed from international standard, indeed some commentators will tell you some the games are more intense than internationals.
Revenge if you want to call it that, is a dish best served cold, or certainly by being as cool as a cucumber.
Crooked Throw-in by Hook
George was at his most authoritative self midweek last week, predicting:
“French can humiliate weak, tired Leinster”
Quicker than a speedboat rounding a buoy he had by Tuesday of this week headlined the following without shame or embarrassment:
“Leinster top of the class on stunning weekend for Irish”
Ever think of going into politics George?
Season Carol Service
I was shocked to find that Ulster Rugby had organised a carol service and it wasn’t just season ticket holders invited along.
The Udder Games
Having been able to relax after Ulster’s emphatic performance last Friday night I settled down to watch Munster’s game with Saracens.
I note their second rows are on the touchline attempting to play like wingers. Trouble is they look like second rows trying to play as wingers but lack the credibility.
Give it up lads and return to the trenches where you belong or consequently watch Desperate Dan on Friday night gliding in at the corner flag, if you want to know how a 2nd row impersonates a winger.
Was it me or was Leinster’s game plan bringing Madigan in on the angle and surprise the defence. When Rougerie caught on at the 4th attempt, it was Madigan kaput, putt, putt…….
One upshot of Friday’s win was my Saturday morning’s ‘hot port’ run to Daft Eddy’s with North Down Cycling club, basking in the afterglow of an Ulster win whilst pedalling into a north Down wind.
Traffic round Ards was in a state of flux as two largish peletons, pootered round the roundabouts towards Scrabo where they finally relieved motorist’s angst by attempting to take on the climb up towards the golf club.
Enjoyable morning’s craic amongst the cycling fraternity who are as daft as the rugby community.
See you all next Saturday afternoon! SUFTUM.