Ulster’s season climaxes in a possible 3 game streak potentially culminating in a RABO PRO12 decider at the RDS. Notice I say potentially because there is still so much uncertainty. All to play for as the cliché goes and in the season of living dangerously, nothing is stamped sold and everything is still for sale.
Yet the rhythmic strains of an orchestra conducted by destiny and the simple laws of power and precision should ensure Ulster arriving at their destination at the RDS in rude health.
In a season of living dangerously, we have seen the highs of sterling performances that marked the team as going places, tempered in October by the death of Nevin Spence and culminating in the thrashing of a Saints team made to look more than ordinary on their home turf.
From the highs of Franklin Gardens to the lows of an expectant Ravenhill, were Ulster suffered a miscarriage of far reaching consequence. Losing to the more than ordinary Saints was a dispiriting experience, made worse by the growing nature of Ulster fans who appeared increasingly to be of the blow-in variety, here for the craic and unconcerned about the team morale.
From the depths of that Ravenhill nadir, Ulster enjoyed a rollercoaster season through the 6 Nations where it became dangerous to be an Irish or Ulster rugby player as the casualty list mounted at a rate that would have alarmed any politician conducting a war in foreign fields.
Ulster’s casualty list mounted exponentially with Ireland’s where it came to the point both Ireland and Ulster struggled to put together a team. As the casualty list mounted so the teams struggled. Much like whales in shallow water, suffering loss of direction, thrashing around to make sense of their surroundings and finally close to dying breath, Ulster at any rate found its mojo eventually.
Ireland suffering an almost fatal trauma and its guiding light for 4 years the ignominy of not having his contract renewed.
By the time the key Heineken game came round, Ulster were undercooked as the casualty list reduced but the combatants lacked decent preparation due to prolonged hors de combat.
The result was defeat to England’s top team who were on form even if that entailed a less than entertaining performance by them to book their semi final slot, were they got their comeuppance from the equally less than entertaining Toulon.
Finally with the little generals restored to something like full health, Ulster arrive at the gates of the RDS needing to beat a Cardiff Blues side without 3 of their 4 Lions and with little to play for at Ravenhill other than pride.
By contrast the Ulster team has every motivation, to make up for their non show at Twickenham against Saracens, to honour the memory of Nevin Spence by winning a trophy this season and finally, last but not least, prove that Rory Best’s exclusion from the Lions squad was a mistake.
If there has been one constant in amongst the injuries to Ulster’s little generals it has been Rory Best. Second rows come and go and did so, on almost game by game basis with Ulster and Ireland. Through all the mounting injury toll Best was expected to make his throws count.
That they didn’t wasn’t entirely his fault.
For sure, one can think of some less than infallible darts that were distinctly wayward but more often than not the jumper simply wasn’t where he was expected to be and as is so often the case the hooker carried the can.
There is mitigation for Rory Best and his throwing, as I said some were solely his fault but the majority could be put down to having to play with different combinations week in week out due to a mounting casualty list.
This has gone untestified to by the Lions selection committee for whom national considerations surely played a part in choosing what are overall mostly inferior selections at hooker.
Best has suffered the ultimate hero to zero journey over 3 months. From being a nailed on certainty to start in the Lions XV to a potential non tourist even should the peculiar hand of injury deal a blow to the chosen ones.
It has been the proverbial rollercoaster from starring role to stagehand in five easy acts. As someone remarked, he would have been better getting himself injured and sitting out the 6 Nations, it’s done Paul O’Connell and Tommy Bowe no harm at all.
Ulster meanwhile have their hand on the tiller of their own rugby destiny. To sink now would be an act of larceny comparable to the Titanic’s reckless first and last voyage.
Alright it’s not life and death, but for long suffering fans the port of victory looms in the lights on the shoreline and the twin lighthouses blink unerringly marking the strait through which they must pass if victory is to be assured. Starting with the Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill, Ulster must steer a steady and unspectacular course home.
As always, as the competitive temperature rises on the field so nerves begin to fray off it and none more so than amongst those looking for tickets for final matches assuming Ulster do the needful in dispensing with the Blues.
Sure as manure follows a farmer, so Ulster rugby are busy fending off angry fans and those cloistered folk called season ticket holders, so long immune to having to scramble for a ticket against the blow-ins who have woken to the fact that something’s going down at Ravenhill.
I have given up going anywhere near Ravenhill these days as I have well documented in previous blogs. A minor irritation for me was receiving the Johann Muller exhortation to attend e-mail prior to the Dragons match, where clearly those glamorous Dragons weren’t in the same league as other PRO 12 teams like Zebre.
I binned it without reading it. UR can’t be assed to tell me when tickets are on sale for other games whilst taking the extra £1.50 per ticket off punters for debit card sales online, so they’re welcome to it.
Things will resolve themselves and not necessarily for the better over the coming seasons when ground capacity increases. Then the job of trying to woo back the disenfranchised will undoubtedly perplex the UR marketing branch.
If bums on seat are performance linked then I predict unemployment for some of Ulster rugby’s marketing people who have all the panache of a partially sighted mafia hitman.
For me, my terracing is the sofa and the ‘beer tent’ resides in the shape of a small fridge on a worktop in the garage. My view of the match is an uninterrupted screening of the game with the minor irritation of Gusher rambling on about how Ulster’s 7 point lead with the wind will be shredded by the all conquering Connaught.
He is aided but not always abetted by the nasal tones of the Constable whose insights have all the impact of a poodle bark. So it is tonight, I will once again recline to be entertained and hopefully witness Ulster stand tall and win through to a home semi final.