It’s been a tough weekend for Ulster supporters as Leinster and Munster once again perform at the highest level in the European Champions Cup.

Why can our cousins do it while we struggle? Having looked at the Ulster representation in the Six Nations squads over the last few weeks we thought we’d start our analysis by looking at the Ulster representation in the Ulster squad!  😯

Recap of Irish representation

So the Ulster representation in the Ireland squad’s hasn’t been great and in general it hasn’t been great over the last seven years.

Why seven years? Well it was in January 2010 that Shane Logan stated his plan for World Domination, with Phase 1 being Ulster becoming the best team in Ireland!

This past European Championship weekend shows just how far we are off that goal, and it’s obvious by our representation in the National sides that we are far from pulling our weight.

Ulster Rugby, Ireland Squads

You would expect a province to have between 25% and 30% representation in the Ireland squads and Ulster are well short of those numbers in the three main representative sides. Note that the above percentages are based on actual time played during the Six Nations.

Ulster Representation in Ulster Squads

As we started gathering up the data on Ulster player performances throughout the season we also had a look at which players had been through the Ulster production system from school age to the senior side.

To date Les Kiss has used 48 players in his senior squads this season. The details are shown below:

PLAYER SQUADS STARTS MINUTES
PLAYED
 ORIGIN
Sean Reidy 22 22 1562 N.Zealand
Charles Piutau 19 19 1467 N.Zealand
Ruan Pienaar 19 19 1356 S.Africa
Clive Ross 23 23 1135 Munster
Luke Marshall 17 17 1099 Ulster
Paddy Jackson 14 14 1058 Ulster
Franco Van der Merwe 19 19 1044 S.Africa
Iain Henderson 13 13 940 Ulster
Rob Herring 19 19 923 S.Africa
Louis Ludik 14 14 909 S.Africa
Chris Henry 13 13 905 Ulster
Andrew Warwick 23 23 889 Ulster
Stuart Olding 11 11 848 Ulster
Kieran Treadwell 17 17 831 England
Tommy Bowe 15 14 809 Ulster
Stuart McCloskey 13 13 795 Ulster
Craig Gilroy 13 13 782 Ulster
Rory Best 11 11 761 Ulster
Pete Browne 17 17 739 England
Robbie Diack 14 14 735 S.Africa
Jacob Stockdale 16 14 725 Ulster
Rodney Ah You 14 14 650 N.Zealand
Alan O’Connor 10 10 642 Leinster
Jared Payne 9 9 635 N.Zealand
Darren Cave 14 14 606 Ulster
Callum Black 17 17 593 USA
Roger Wilson 12 12 559 Ulster
Paul Marshall 22 18 529 Ulster
Wiehahn Herbst 12 12 524 S.Africa
Andrew Trimble 7 7 517 Ulster
Kyle McCall 10 10 488 Ulster
Ross Kane 11 11 344 Ulster
Robert Lyttle 8 6 341 Ulster
Peter Nelson 5 5 299 Ulster
John Andrew 17 13 296 Ulster
Brett Heron 11 7 287 S.Africa
Marcell Coetzee 4 4 236 S.Africa
Ricky Lutton 5 5 214 Ulster
David Shanahan 5 4 198 Leinster
Jonny Simpson 4 4 126 Ulster
Dan Tuohy 2 2 121 England
Sam Windsor 2 2 84 Australia
Conor Joyce 2 2 49 England
Aaron Cairns 1 1 16 Ulster
Jack Owens 1 1 13 Ulster
Angus Lloyd 2 1 12 Leinster
David Busby 2 2 12 Ulster
Johnny Murphy 1 0 0 Ulster

 

A quick count shows 26 of those 48 players (54%)  have been through the Ulster programme from school age. However, when we look at time on the pitch this season that figure drops to 48.7% in terms of minutes played.Ulster Players, Time on Pitch

Now this isn’t some BREXIT type rant to get the foreigners out. All those players are welcome inclusions to team Ulster and many have become firmly embedded in the culture and community of the province but what it does show is how comparitively limited the pathway is to the senior squad for our own youngsters.

The question that has to be asked is why are we not able to develop our own players to the required standards?

I suppose the obvious answer would be that we just don’t have the talent, but I’m somewhat loath to accept this. However, we do need to look at our forwards.

In the backs, if you ran through your first choice picks, I’d guess that at least 70% would be Ulster developed with only Piutau, Pienaar and Payne being certain starters, well for this season at least. W

When you look at the forwards the Ulster representation could be anything between 15% and 40% with Rory Best and Iain Henderson the only Ulster boys guaranteed a spot in the 13 squad places. Chris Henry and Kyle McCall would get in there as well, in my opinion, but they are no way guaranteed!

Whatever way you cut it though we are struggling to develop our local forwards – the keystone of any team! We’ve never had physically big players, so are we just playing the wrong way?

What do Ulster need to do

In my opinion it’s fairly straight forward. We need to develop a faster paced off loading forwards game relying on skill rather than bulk. The amount of time and money that we waste trying to bulk our players up to unrealistic proportions would be far better spent out of the gym and on the pitch developing the necessary skill sets.

If they could get the right balance between bulk and skills then it could trickle down through the club and school system and start the necessary production line of local talent.

Easy to say, but would the appetite be there for a short term drop in competitiveness? Coetzee could be the sort of player to start this transition, and in his short period of availability he seemed able to invigorate a faster game but will we have him around for long enough?

Will it happen? I don’t know. At the minute Ulster seem too happy to try and buy success rather than develop it.

2 Comments

  1. Leinster is nearest comparable province to Ulster both in terms of their schools system and in terms of ‘foreign’ players in their squad, the major difference for me is in the game plan and mindset of their players which is to play with a lack of fear. Ulster players by contrast appear to be inhibited by game plans, the exception being the likes of Payne, Pititau and Coetzee. Release their inner chimp and allow the homegrown Ulster players to play their natural game and not some computer programmed numbers rugby game devised by coaches.

Do you agree or disagree? We'd love to read your comments.