PRO12Trophy

As of this ‘sunny’ Friday morning there is no team announcement for Saturday’s showdown or hoedown, if you believe some of the Ulster fans.

I expect the team will not be much changed from the one that stepped unto the verdant green pastures that is Ravenhill. Unlike the RDS, Ravenhill has been a relatively unattended pitch in recent times and the grass can luxuriate in the mixture of showers and sunshine that are the current weather template.

The strong, ambivalent winds that have mysteriously plagued our land over the past few months causing people to mutter in a manner as dark as some of the clouds overhead, appear to be receding in favour of more climate friendly south westerlies.

I can see clearly now the rain has gone!

Indeed for coaches and players the season, on the club side at least, has crystallised into a showdown between the two best sides in Irish rugby and if you believed the statistics in terms of league placings, the PRO 12.

That would of course be disrespectful to Glasgow who probably can count themselves unlucky to have lost to Leinster two weeks ago in the semi final.

Tony Ward believes they were the best team in the RABO PRO 12, citing how great rugby they played over the season. Perhaps he has suffered short term myopia, as one can recall some awful Glasgow rugby pre Christmas before they metamorphosed into the all singing all dancing act that we saw at the RDS.

It is why they finished 3rd in the PRO 12!

All to play for tomorrow night, I am tipping Ulster to win. I would, I suppose but it may come down to greater desire when things go a little belly up and notwithstanding Leinster’s farewell participants and grand final losses of previous years, Ulster have the aching desire to win something that may just trump Leinster.

It’s not the apocalypse but for some the rugby season is closing out or has finished in an anti climax and for some in slightly bitter recrimination.

Warren Gatland the erstwhile lions coach has informed us through the stilted lens of the media that those whose season has finished and are now ensconced with the Lions in training camp, (basically the Welsh), are at an advantage when it comes to Lions selection.

I was pondering, ever so briefly, the implications of this and what message it conveys to those players, mainly English and Irish, who are continuing to compete for honours at the highest level of the domestic game, whether in the League or Amlin cup.

In a nutshell, if you are playing in an also ran team such as the Scarlets or the Ospreys, you are in the driving seat when it comes to Lions selection because you are afforded additional training time rather than competing in high level competition.

I’m thinking of renaming them the Welsh, british and irish Lions. The lack of capitals is deliberate. Such distorted thinking permeates the Scarlets fans messageboard. In the aftermath of defeat by Ulster they were consistent in saying the better side won, (it did of course), but in winning Ulster had considerable assistance from an Irish referee.

At last sight, (two days afterwards), the Scarlets messageboard forum ran to 11 pages on the subject of Alain Rolland.

Hell hath no fury like the Scarlets scorned!

The Scarlets number was up at the end of the first half with Ulster barely breaking stride. As is their wont, Ulster having done enough to secure the win and passage to the final, relaxed without ever letting go of the game.

This can be a frustrating trait in them but from another perspective, a pragmatic view of the game. It doesn’t earn reams of print in the newspapers for steamrollering teams into the ground but being realistic, against a game Scarlets side which shipped injuries like an Amazon distribution centre ships books, there was little point in getting all worked up.

Their Welsh Lions certainly weren’t!

Nor has Alain Rolland been benevolent to them (Ulster) either. I remember in the pouring rain of Donnybrook and Rolland penalising Ulster to a fantastic and hopelessly one sided degree. Leinster won that match 9-3 on penalties if I recall rightly but Rolland racked up a double figure penalty count in favour of Leinster.

Of the two semi finals in the PRO 12, the Leinster- Glasgow game was by far the most entertaining even if once again Leinster appeared to get away with murder at the breakdown and Glasgow’s entertaining off loading game was not rewarded with a win.

Perhaps secretly Ulster will be pleased to be playing Leinster rather than the more potent looking Glasgow!

On a side note I’m disappointed to see one time Ulster favourite Isaac boss indulging in histrionics worthy of the pampered football elite. He threw the ball at a retreating Glasgow forward to get the penalty. Quite aside from this act of professional larcency, the pass was forward.

A yellow card might have been a more devastating riposte than the resulting penalty miss by Sexton. I’m sure I speak for the majority when I say I don’t want to see this creep into rugby. It’s bad enough with splash diving, pointed fingers in the air going over for a try and players collapsing as if hit by a sledgehammer in order to get someone sent off.

With Ulster in the PRO12 final at their temporary ‘home’ ground of the RDS, the clamour for tickets is once again at a crescendo. I’m not going. My dad’s 90th birthday is on that day and I will be elsewhere than Dublin.

Even if it wasn’t I still wouldn’t be going!

I lost the will to live when I read UR’s priority one booking where if you answer 5 down and 3 across on the crossword puzzle it entitles you to a couple of tickets up until Stevie Ferris’s birthday.

Then priority booking zzz! sets in and after getting half a moderate suduko puzzle right, season ticket holders for the new millennium can purchase a few more tickets.

If there’s any tickets left after that, there’s nothing a bottle of Newcastle Brown ale wouldn’t solve.

Bottom line I’ll be watching it on TV.

Talking of Stevie Ferris, I heard Rory Best explain that negotiations were still ongoing and how much they all wanted to keep Steve. This has become more drawn out than the hundred years war and probably just as messy.

Meanwhile BOD has decided that the people’s love for him transcends any thoughts of spending more time with his family and he has signed for another year with centres everywhere in Ireland ripping 13 off their shirts.

I think I might start a bookmakers and take bets on how many times BOD takes the field. How long he lasts on it before pulling his reserve hamstring. The final wager will be how long he hobbles on it whilst scoring from .5 of a metre out before finally going off to thunderous applause.

The legend lives on in a twilight world of his past glory and niggling injury, egged on by a garrulous public and media!

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