Heineken Cup Final: Ulster

After cappuccino-slurping, Irish Times-perusing, 46A-travelling, Dundrum-shopping, Fallon & Byrne-frequenting, field-fearing Leinsterman Palla’s look at his team yesterday, I’ll be giving the proud Ulstermen some analysis today – SUFTUM etc.

We’re going to have a roundtable discussion tomorrow and give our forecasts – let’s hope it doesn’t come to fisticuffs.  We’ll keep you posted…

Who’s going to play:

Unlike Leinster, who can expect up to 12 of the team that played in their last Heineken Cup final, Ulster won’t be calling on any of the 1999 side, not even Gary Longwell. Also unlike Leinster, there isn’t much competition for places – the XV is pretty much set in stone: Terblanche; Trimble, Cave, Wallace, Gilroy; Jackson, Pienaar; Court, Best, Afoa; Muller, Tuohy; Ferris, Henry, Wannenbosh. Lots of Ooooooooooooohhh there (of which more anon).

On the bench, there is a chance Iain Henderson will get the reserve lock slot from Louis Stevenson (but it’s unlikely), so that is pretty much set in stone as well. McLaughlin hasn’t been one for changes in the big games, but with the probability Ulster will be chasing it in the last 20, you can expect Paul Marshall to come in for Paddy Jackson with Pienaar moving out; but that’s it unless there are injuries – the bench is low on experience and, in some of the more established players’ cases (Willie Faloon, Nigel Brady, the outside backs) HEC standard class.

What’s the plan:

Keep it tight. As tight as a duck’s butt. Like the proverbial Shannon quote (“if we ever find a number 8 who can kick…”), the lower the digits on the shirt of the players with the ball, the better for Ulster. Ulster will fancy their set piece is superior to Leinster’s, and will look for the template they employed in the Marcel Michelin – grind, bosh, boot and Bok.

They will aim to play territory, looking to kick for touch when they give the piano players the ball, and hope their superior lineout can get disrupt Leinster throws in their own 22. The good thing about this is they have four good tactical kickers (Pienaar, Jackson, Wallace, Terblanche) to execute the plan. The bad thing is their execution against Embra was poor, and Leinster have the best kick-returners in the business (Bob, Nacewa, Sexton) – a repeat of the first half showing in the semi-final and they’ll be going in 20 points down.

To win, they must:

Not deviate from the gameplan, and execute everything with absolute precision. They need to get their set pieces on top. The Ulster lineout is undoubtedly better than Leinster’s, their scrum will break even at least (but beware of the intelligent Leinster props turning a perceived advantage on its head). Assuming Kevin McLaughlin plays to shore up the creaky Leinster lineout, Ulster will have the best breakdown merchant and back frustrater on the pitch in Chris Henry.

Ulster will have been watching the Leinster-Clermont game and noted how Ulster’s performance away to Clermont was arguably better in the set pieces – they will think they can turn the screw on Leinster just as Clermont did in the second quarter, and as they did against Edinburgh in the third quarter.

When Leinster have their inevitable purple patch, Ulster must defend with discipline and intelligence – the boys in blue can score tries against anyone from anywhere – the likes of Wallace, Henry and Cave need to be alert for inside runners and their tackling technique needs to be bang on to take offloads out of the question – if the Ulster backrow are prominent, Leinster should be worried. The Springbok model of defending and hitting hard is the Ulster one – make the scores come in multiples of 3.

They’ll be snookered if:

They put a foot wrong! Any errant kicks will be punished, and punished severely – with respect to the Embra backs, they have nothing on these guys. Looking at Leinster’s results away from D4 this year, one try has generally been enough – if Leinster break through at all, you’d have to fancy Ulster’s chances are small. So don’t concede any tries.

If the scrum does not get on top, Ulster should be worried – Afoa and co need to put pressure on the Leinster fatties to take the ref out of the equation. In their knock-out games to date, they have had the luxury of Poite i.e. if you are on top, you get the penalty.  With Owens, unless it’s clear cut (and even when it is), the scrum penalties are a bit more of a lottery.

And finally, they must be ready for an onslaught in the final quarter. Ulster need to lead from the front, and Leinster might be quite happy to work the tacklers in the first half and go in, say, 6-9 down, with a view to pushing on like they did in Clermont, and bringing on their impact subs. Ulster will have much of the same XV on the field to the end, and they need to be mentally ready for the last 20 if they are to cling on.

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7 Comments

  1. Amiga500

     /  May 17, 2012

    The ladyboys are for a hiding! (if we can keep it to a 9 man game)

    SUFTUM!!!

  2. ABROG

     /  May 17, 2012

    BO’D is the best breakdown merchant.

    • This is PO here, and I’d argue that Jamie Heaslip is the best breakdown operator on the pitch.

      • ABROG

         /  May 18, 2012

        I imagine McCaw taught him a thing or two. Heaslip’s ability to not get pinged for his antics is as unseen as stakhanov. Point taken. Let’s hope the both of them win turn over ball.

  3. P White

     /  May 18, 2012

    I am not taking the argument that Ulster can expect an advantage at scrum time. I suspect Mike Ross has packed down in opposition to Tom Court enough times in the Ireland camp to have him figured out all over. If Court gets an early advantage, Ross has the ability to move the goalposts and turn it around. Best is a better scrummager than Strauss or Cronin but Healy can get parity against Ofoa before HVDM comes on and does his usual thing.

    Ulster have a chance if they really hurt Leinster at line out time but they really do need everything to go perfectly. Leinster will not let Gilroy ghost around and then through them from half way for a try. They will put serious points on the board if given massive possession and territory advantage in the second half. Defending heroically for 40 minutes will not win the final like it did the quarter final.

    People are voting Pienaar as the key for Ulster but to me, it is always Ferris. He is the heart beat of this Ulster team. Go back to a key moment in the Ulster-Leicester blow out in the group stages. Ulster had gone ahead but then conceded a try. The game got a little bit loose and it was a crucial period. Leicester made a break through the middle, into the Ulster 22 and looked nailed on to score. Ferris appears out of nowhere and smashes the Leicester ball carrier from his blindside forcing a knock on. A try then and the game was back in Leicesters favour. Not many players in the world would have made the tackle at all, let alone force the knock on. Ferris makes those plays. If he is at his sensational best, Ulster have a real chance. Any less and they will not win.

    • Great analysis P White. I also think scrum time will be even enough, maybe slight advantage Ulster, because the Leinster scrum can have its off days. But if Leinster scrummage well, they’re capable of coming out evens. Either way, it won’t be worth 12 points to either side.

      Ferris certainly lights the touchpaper for Ulster, and the crowd. I was right behind the posts for that tackle in Ravers, and I felt it in my bones. I love his tackling technique; it’s not textbook like, say, Dusatoir’s, he just sort of manhandles people to the ground! As Gerry would say he’s a key man for ‘the ebb and flow of psychic energy’. I recall a huge blindside smash on a charging Munster runner at a crucial time in the QF too – was it Coughlan?

      PO

  4. P White

     /  May 19, 2012

    Ferris hits tackles like most quality tight forwards hit rucks. Seriously, watch him closely. The difference is that a ruck is a stationary object but a player to be tackled is moving and in trying to avoid you (for a contrast to this thought, please the Premiership, The Guinness). Ferris’ timing in the tackle is just unbelievable.

    It is still a great shame that we did not get to see him play 3 tests for the Lions in South Africa in 2009. The man is the closest thing to an Afrikaan loose forward this country has ever produced.

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