Epic

Ulster did what Egg so emotionally implored them to do, and played the music with vigour on Saturday night – not panicking when 6 points down in the first half, then stepping up the intensity when 10 down in the second – the Ulstermen played with such power and poise that Leicester were simply shut down in a ground in which they hadn’t lost a European game in seven years (we can’t remember who last beat them but it may have involved a heroic 50m kick into driving rain that had Barnesy choking on his Beaujolais), incorporating games against the best in Europe in that period. Chris Henry showed why Joe Schmidt paid such attention to him when Leinster coach, Roger Wilson showed why Darren Cave thinks he is as good as Jamie Heaslip, Ruan Pienaar added the finishing touches and Besty the finesse with the boot.

Every scrap, metre and loose ball was vigorously fought for and the margin of victory was always going to be slim.  Leicester were getting weaker as the game went on, with injuries taking their toll, and Ulster were getting stronger thanks to an impact-stacked bench.  Iain Henderson is arguably among the players of the pool stages without starting a game.  Would 80 minutes be too long for Leicester to hold on or too short for Ulster to get ahead on the scoreboard?

In the end it was long enough for Ulster to manufacture the winning scores and see out the game.  Journeys to greatness are made of such wins – just ask the great Leinster and Munster sides.  Heineken Cups are won not just in the finals themselves but in the heart-stopping landmark away wins that foster belief and togetherness.

It was an epic contest, a classic of the Heineken Cup genre – the first really unforgettable match of this year’s less than vintage tournament.  The Globo Gym-Toulouse game came close but was a bit too boshtastic. In previous years, there have been multiple games like this throughout the pool stages, but the decline in quality of the middle tier has left this years tournament pretty bereft – it took two of the big boys to produce the defining game of the pool stages.

Looking forward from here, Ulster will fancy themselves to beat Globo Gym in front of the new Ravers stands. They won’t be over-represented on Joe Schmidt’s Ireland selections (which will help them keep that store of bitterness going), and have impressive togetherness as a group. The Saracens won’t go away easily though and should not be underestimated, but the idea of shoving Chris Ashton’s swallow dive form last season up his hoop should provide further motivation, as if any were needed.  Sarries aren’t quite the boshers of yore (we’re still calling them Globo Gym though) and have expanded their game this year, recognising that their brand of hoof-and-run was not enough to beat the very best teams.  It’s bringing the best out in them, and in truth they always had players capable of playing a bit: Charlie Hodgson, David Strettle and especially the quicksilver Alex Goode and outside centre Schalk Brits.  He’s an outside centre, right?

[Aside: speaking of Globo Gym, the sight of Rodney Ah Here being mashed by Mako Vunipola, who himself was mashed by Ben Alexander, was rather unedifying to say the least.  His contribution around the park wasn’t too impressive either.  His first two carries saw him shunted backwards and then turned over.  And as one poster on a rugby fan forum said last week ‘he is capable of being equally out of breath after five minutes on both sides of the scrum’. We’d love to know the logic for bringing him into the Ireland squad – maybe his tackle bag holding is even better than Darren Cave’s.]

If the pool stages were a bit humdrum, at least the knockout games are exquisitely poised.  While Gerry is understandably drooling over the prospect of more interprovincial blood-letting a Leinster-Munster semi-final, it’s Toulon who will be happiest with that draw – being home (or in Marseille) in a semi-final is a huge motivator. Leinster will do very well to overcome the absence of the two pillars of their back-to-back HECs, Johnny Sex-bomb and SOB, and Toulon is a very hard place to win. Munster’s pack is possibly the most technically proficient left in the competition, but they are facing a Toulouse side who went to the Globo Gym and faced down a beefy pack – this one will be trench warfare, and it’s even possible Toulouse will try to tackle the marauding Munster forwards, unlike Embra.  It has the makings of a classic match.  Neither side is as good as when they last met in 2008, but both know how to fight to the death.

Likewise, Ulster won’t fear Clermont (or Leicester, in theory) in the Aviva if they negotiate the obstacle course that is the Saracens centre partnership – if that game does come to pass, it will likely come down to Clermont’s mental strength under pressure. It hasn’t been their strongest suit of recent years, and we just can’t pick them to win a big semi-final away from the Michelin.  For all the Clermont-worship that goes on, they still aren’t the world’s greatest team on the road.

So, if we were calling it now, we’d say an Ulster-Toulon final is in prospect, but the knockouts are often like a different tournament – so the usual health warnings apply. In fact, let’s face it, we’re getting miles ahead of ourselves.  The tracks are dry and there is the small matter of a Six Nations in between, so the physical and mental wellbeing of the players can be completely different when April comes around.  Leinster barely scraped out of their group in 2009, but the other side of a Grand Slam they went on to win the Cup.  Let the interprovincial blood-letting battle commence!

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56 Comments

  1. Ah You has been playing really well for Connacht, holding up scrums on the TH side which is all you can ask for from an Irish prop really.
    Be honest WOC, how many times have you seen him play before the Sarries cameo this year?

    He’s young in propping terms, has been decorated with All Black U20 caps, can seemingly play either side and has been doing well this year. Hardly earth shattering to bring into a 6N extended squad?

    • We’ve see very little of Ah You, we have no problem admitting that. That’s why we were so interested to have a look at him on Saturday. While we should probably hold judgement for now, he was so unspeakably awful it took us aback a bit.

      • Bit of a knee jerk reaction calling it illogical to bring him into Irish squad (announced last week before the Sarries game) if you haven’t seen much of him then!

        • We said we’d love to know what the logic is, because it’s hard to see on that evidence. He is the reserve prop in a team bottom of the Pro12 and which conceded 11 tries on Saturday. He was mashed in the set-piece by a prop who is not regarded for his scrummaging and was poor around the paddock. Playing both sides is of minimal value in the age of 23 man squads. With all respect, it doesn’t look as if he is a test-class player. We stand to be proven wrong.

  2. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  January 20, 2014

    A great display full of character by Ulster but they aren’t doing anything for my blood pressure. Handing the ball back over to Leicester with 1 second left on the clock gave me visions of another Ireland v NZ style injury time heartbreaker but thankfully Leicester’s attack as a blunt as it had been for the previous 80 minutes, Flood’s clever kick withstanding.

    Here’s hoping they can get their heads and gameplan in place for the Sarries game as it was obvious from the kick-off that something wasn’t right in last year’s QF.

  3. To be honest I can see another all-Ireland final. If there’s one team who can out-champagne Toulon at Felix-Mayol, it’s Leinster. Obviously they’ll have to front up massively but I think their experience of taking on Clermont away will do them well. They’ll be sacrificing kittens to get SOB back on the pitch come April though.

    As for Ulster, it was probably the most complete performance I’ve seen from them, including the Raid on Thomond two years ago, given we didn’t lead the match until the last ten minutes.

    Globo-Gym aren’t going to be pushovers, but I was mightily impressed with how our pack stood up to the Tiger’s , which is where I felt we were probably slightly weaker going into the game (what a turnaround from the Munster game two weeks ago!), so I think Johann (god, he’ll be a loss whenever he decides to retire) and co will be much more prepared for Borthwick & Co this year (as long as we aren’t riddled with injuries in the 6N).

  4. ruckinhell

     /  January 20, 2014

    Irish provinces heading into the 6 Nations in rude health ( bar the Connacht horrorshow). Good wins by Leinster and Munster but a chapeau to Ulster, that was a Championship win if I’ve ever seen one. Hard nosed, composed and ground up Leicester on their home patch. Real impact from the bench and Anscombe has built a fine squad.

    With a view to the 6 Nations,most of the Irish internationals are in fine form with Healy and POC in particular tearing up trees at the moment. A special mention to Luke Fitz who has been fantastic since his return and I hope he gets a well deserved start against Scotland as he’s the form winger in the country.

    Both the TOD and Henry put in big performances for the 7 jersey over last fortnight, I think Henry will get it (and rightly so, a fine player) but the TOD has made a serious case for inclusion on the bench against Scotland.

    Can we mention the elephant in the room though, the poor form and play of BOD? For all his deficiencies in terms of pace I’d go with Darren Cave over him at the moment and I’d even consider Henshaw over BOD based on his most recent performances. It won’t happen but he looks eminently droppable.

  5. ummm,

     /  January 20, 2014

    I’m just going to quickly hijack this Ulster article and address the Ah You question. There are a number of factors in his Wolfhounds call-up.

    A. Investment. Ok, this isn’t exactly the most important thing, because if the IRFU invest in you and you’re not up to scratch then you don’t have the right to expect an Ireland call up. But let’s face it, props are different. Which brings us to..

    B. Fear. The IRFU are (poop)-scared of another propping crisis. A 2 minute appearance at the end of a Wolfhounds game will tie Ah You to the national team for the rest of his life, and he’s still very young. Having another Irish qualified prop, whether he deserves his call up today or 5 years from now, is what they want, and it’s what they’re afraid of losing.

    C. Marketing. Come to Ireland! With our green women and our flame haired countryside! And, look!, if you come over here and stay for three years your dream of playing International rugby will come true. You only have to see the number of success stories to know this is true.

    In the end, and I am 100% wearing my Dave Ah You tinted glasses here, he has in fact gone from being a player few fans trusted to one we’re happy to see start a match. The scrum changes have helped him enormously and one poor match in a sea of Connacht players playing poorly doesn’t change that. He’s good in the loose, but prone to dropping balls, which is in fact the main issue people should have against him. The crack about him being out of breath after 5 minutes is 12 months out of date.

  6. jacothelad

     /  January 20, 2014

    I have to say I was strangely calm and relaxed during the game. I’ve no idea why. Normally, a game like that would have my BP at 180 /120 and I’d have a hole worn in the floor from changing direction, scrummaging and twisting out of tackles. Perhaps it was the reassurance borne from watching Leicester stumble and reach into the lucky bag to ponce wins against Treviso. Maybe it was the fact that Ulster had an escape hatch having already qualified.

    Once the scrums settled down, the l/o worked well, Ulster repelled ant Tigers’ driving mauls with gusto and the back row and backs calmly (apparently) demolished the Tigers’ attacks time after time I felt it was Ulster’s day. Chris Henry – 20 tackles. Paddy Jackson – 15 tackles. Tuohy battering the bejasus out of them. Nuff said.

    Even when 10 points down, I felt there was something in the tank. It was also very gratifying to see Tom Court come on and once again shove Dan Cole’s head up his fundamental orifice. Let’s face it, poor old Tom could defaecate golden rugby balls and he’d still be criticised. Now there is a guy whose face doesn’t fit. (BTW I’ve nothing against Cole, he’s a good player and a really nice guy.)

    I agree with you that Roger Wilson had an epic game. Such a match is his meat and drink. (I don’t think Cave ever meant that R.W. was as good as Heaslip, just that he is a talented player who was unlucky to play at the same time as Leamy and then Heaslip. If Wilson had moved to Leinster instead of Saints during Ulster’s ‘Wilderness Years’, I wonder how he’d have fared.)

    It was a great advert for the game of rugby. No foul play, no slagging off the ref, no Yellow Garners.

    Tigers are not at their peak yet this season. They tend to start the season slowly and aim to come good at the business end. They have had significant injury problems to key players – just as Ulster did for most of last season and even now are still without 3 significant guys. You mentioned the strength to come off the bench however I can’t help feeling thast if Ulster had to use Lutton, McPenaltyish and McIlwaine, the jig would have been up p.d.q. Two of these three guys would be hard pushed to get jobs at Leinster, Munster or Tigers as car park attendants.

    It was also great to see that Ulster were clearly fitter at this stage of the season and Tigers simply couldn’t last the pace. (I wonder have they adopted the French philosophy of aiming to be at peak condition as the season nears it’s climax.) Now, Tigers have an absolutely superb set up with back room staff and fitness and even wrestling gurus coming out the windows so Ulster seem to be doing some thing right.

  7. @Completebore

     /  January 20, 2014

    Delighted Ulster managed to put together a full 80-minute perfromance (aside from a couple of knock-ons and dodgy kicks). The defense looks to be in great shape and as everybody is pointing out the bench is strong (I do notice Hendo’s presence on the Ulster bench and the Ireland squad is never mentioned in the ongoing anti-Ulster bias debate). They’ve proved (to themselves most importantly) they can suck up pressure and put a team away.

    Munster and Leinster did all that was asked of them, but they will have learned nothing about themselves and I’m sure neither will get carried away by the scorelines and blind themselves to some aspects of the performances (unlike some of the fans of both teams on twitter over the weekend). Embra in particular were awful, after the third try I stopped watching – if they couldn’t be bothered to tackle I wasn’t going to keep watching.

    All four games look exciting, the Clermont/Leicester game looks the most straight-forward home win, the other three depending on your provincial bias.

  8. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  January 20, 2014

    With any luck Tommy Bowe will be fit for the quarters so there will be no shudder I get when seeing McIlwaine’s name there. The interesting one will be Stephen Ferris. If he gets a few run outs for Dungannon then Pro12 fixtures, he could very well be in the frame. Even if he gets to come off the bench, the psychological boost to Ulster in the quarters would be huge.

    • therealspratt

       /  January 20, 2014

      Won’t be seeing Ferris in the HC since I’m pretty sure he’s not registered unfortunately, he’ll be handy for the Rabo finals though! Also on McIlwaine how I wish Scholes was fit earlier on in the season so he could take that spot on the bench instead…

      • Patrick O'Riordan

         /  January 20, 2014

        Teams can register an additional 3 players for the knock-out stages, one of whom must be a front row player.

        • therealspratt

           /  January 20, 2014

          I stand corrected and what a wonderful correction at that! We’ll have to see though whether the big man can get himself flying in the next few weeks, I wonder who we’ll take from the front row, Macklin perhaps since McCall and McAllister have already been included in the squad.

          • Patrick O'Riordan

             /  January 20, 2014

            Yeah, I’d guess that Ferris (if fit), Macklin as the front rower and a back like Scholes or Nelson would be the additional squad places.

  9. Yossarian

     /  January 20, 2014

    Delighted with Ulster,really feared for them when they were 10 points down but the comeback was the stuff of champions. Was delighted they got the “home” semi-final as i feel they are the best hope of the Irish this year. Leinster and Claremont seem to be waning forces in Europe. i think Toulon away was the worst possible outcome for Leinster. Leinster without SOB just don’t look equipped for that kind of away battle, particularly without Sexton around anymore. Munster won’t fear Toulouse at home considering the French sides away form, they struggled to put away Zebre and their domestic form is shocking.
    Ulster v Claremont, Toulon v Munster with a possible Ulster v Toulon final…..

  10. Leinsterlion

     /  January 20, 2014

    “Munster’s pack is possibly the most technically proficient left in the competition”- Is this a joke? Above average, yea, but I could see Leinster and Ulster more than matching them in the scrums and around the park, and all of the French teams left steamrollering them, especially Toulouse. Toulouse are a fit McAllister at ten(out for the season, I think?) away from being the best team in Europe, I had a punt on them to win the HC at the start if the season and stand by it, they are the best in Europe on their day.

    I ended up getting fairly hammered at the Leinster game so I cant really remember the second half, just a vague feeling that we weren’t very good, or cohesive, almost McGahan-munsteresque. Fairly disappointed at the performance. Aussie coaches, what? Toulon will batter us if we replicate that performance.

    Munster were good, watched until just after the half when the win was secure and couldn’t take any more of the sycophantic commentary. Keatley stepped up, but how much of that was due to Edinburgh being an average team.

    • Their technical proficiency really manifests itself at the breakdown, where they pulverise opponents. They are neither especially powerful nor intimidating but they have a way of doing a number on their opponents by being more accurate than them.

      Not convinced on Toulouse with or without McAllister. There’s a reason they’ve signed up Toby Flood for next season. It’ll be a hell of a match-up though.

      • The quality of outhalves in French rugby…

        The complexion on the tournament could be very different – and lemon-tinted – had Sexton chosen Clermont over RM.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  January 20, 2014

        Fair enough assesment, breakdown is key. I still dont think it’ll be enough to see off the sheer power of the French teams.

        As for Toulouse, I reckon they have signed up Flood more due to Beauxis utter ineffectiveness and McAllisters not getting a new deal due to being dodgy with the boot imo and well “erratic” form, I’d still say he’s a quality player, form aside.

        *Just seen Dusatoirs out for the Munster……bollocks..big loss.

        • Kelly Peters

           /  January 22, 2014

          *Just seen Dusatoirs out for the Munster……bollocks..big loss.

          Surely as a Leinster fan this should be good news. Should they beat Toulon then you’ll either face a Dusatoir-less Toulouse or a Munster team who escaped getting “steamrolled” got through because Toulouse were without their star and captain.

          Is your anti-Munster bias beginning to cloud even your love for Leinster.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  January 22, 2014

            Nah I put money on Toulouse to win the entire thing, if Leinster win its a bonus, if toulouse win its straight cash homie.

    • osheaf01

       /  January 20, 2014

      This is the “best team in Europe” that’s lost EVERY SINGLE away league match in the Top 14 this season, and managed to lose at home to Connacht? Should they get over Munster, I wouldn’t put one cent on them beating either Leinster or Toulon away.

      “all of the French teams left steamrollering them” – does that include Clermont, then? Given that they steamrolled a Munster, much weaker and more inconsistent, and 12 months earlier in their current redevelopment, by a massive and humiliating 16-10, at home, in last year’s semi-final?

      No surprise you’re talking out your posterior again – you make a habit of it.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  January 20, 2014

        By Steamrollering, I dont mean trounce them like Saracens v Connacht. I mean use their Massive pack to outmuscle them. So what if they are inconsistent, on their day they are the best in Europe, look at that pack. All teams in the T14 have terrible away records, doesnt mean a thing.

        I cant see Clermont failing to rise to the occasion as abjectly as they did last year if by fluke they actually end up facing Munster. On paper and on form they have a bigger team so, unless they fall into the same tactical trap Munster set for them, they should be able to simple outmuscle them. I cant see anyone on Munster team with more physicality than their opposite number. Clermont are the weakest of the Three French as Munster are the weakest of the three Irish, they wont end up facing each other anyway, so its a moot point really.The winner will come from the Toulon/Leinster v Munster/Toulouse side of the draw.

        I’m not knocking Munster alone, If Clermont, Toulouse and Toulon all turn up at 90% I dont see how any team could live with their physicality and depth. And out of the three I have put my money where my mouth is and wagered Toulouse have more BMT to go with the physicality.

        • osheaf01

           /  January 22, 2014

          You’d swear the Top 14 is Nigerian football. (http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/oct/29/nigeria-toughest-league-win-away)
          I agree home wins are normal in Top 14 (and in Heineken), but the “best team in Europe” shouldn’t be losing all their away league matches. And they definitely should never lose to Connacht.

          I also completely disagree that Clermont are the weakest of the 3 French sides (that’s Toulouse), and it’s at least arguable that Munster are the weakest of the 3 Irish (though they probably are, right now.)

          Munster’s and Toulouse’s groups were probably the weakest pools in the pool stages and, for that reason, the winner of Leinster (toughest pool) v Toulon should be odds-on favourites to reach the final. Saying the winner of that will definitely beat Ulster or Clermont is completely ignoring the evidence – Toulon scraped the Heineken final over Clermont by a point, while Leinster needed a friendly ref and home advantage to scrape the Rabo Final over Ulster by 6. I think it’s likely to be Clermont v Leinster myself.

          Regarding wagering on Toulouse, with 2 away ties to overcome even to reach the final and a formline that’s poor, I’m reminded of the adage “a fool and his money are easily parted.”

          • Leinsterlion

             /  January 22, 2014

            I got good odds before the group stage was even finished and obviously Dusatoir wasnt injured at that stage. I still reckon they will do it, on paper man for man I’d take them over any team, add in Noves, history in the competiton, good home form(showing they actually can play), European knockout rugby is about who turns up on the day and Toulouse have enough big names to do it.

            You may be right on Ulster, but I reckon its last chance saloon and if they dont win this year they wont unless they beef up heavily during the summer.

            Clermont are rightfully favourites due to their form but I still think they lack BMT, they are a mentally weak side.

  11. Very hard fought win.

    That said, our attacking game simply never got going, and it’s been less-than-acceptable for maybe two months now (winter? poor excuse, if so). Improve that and we can win this comp.

    Overall, four quarter finals that could go either way (aside from the Tigers, don’t envy them, don’t think they’ve the players to win in SMM, reckon they’re sunk).

    So – not to spoil the party, because the defensive effort was marvellous, Chris Henry I love you – lots of good points, but lots to improve on.

    • Agreed LarryM, I think Ulster will need to be a little sharper in attack than they have been to get through the next couple of rounds. Tommy Bowe could be the missing ingredient. Also, Payne has been a little bit off his game in the last two rounds, they will need him to get his form back.

      • Bowe obviously makes a difference, though you’re absolutely right about Payne and that’s a little more worrying.

        But I thought the attacking game barely got going at all; our start up plays, even basic stuff like sending Big Nick up the middle (to knock on) after a line out, were extremely inaccurate. Some credit must go to Leicester’s defence, but I thought we made far too many errors, in keeping with recent form, and this will have to be rectified. Of course, I’m not too unhappy, how many teams get to go to Welford Road in such a big game, have a huge part of their gameplan fail to function, and still walk away with the win?

        And, all this said – the QFs are months away, form right now is almost irrelevant (there’s a whole Six Nations to get through). Impossible for any team to say what shape they’ll be in. Apart from Toulon, I imagine they’ll be fine.

        • I actually thought Nick was back to near his best, that one knock-on (which was from a brutal pass in any case) aside. I don’t remember giving any outbursts for trying for offloads or really poor knock-ons. He does seem to require a bit of gametime to get into the swing of things.

          I think Payne’s lack of form at Welford Road was more to do with the Tigers shutting him down, but I don’t think he’s been as bad as WoC are suggesting. I’d pick holes in his positioning for the Morris try, but he did show a serious amount of gas to shut down Kitchener’s Tom Croft impression in the first half.

          Our attack does need to be a fair bit sharper though, things like Mike Allen vs Montpellier could be the difference between winning and losing.

          • Not as bad as we’re suggesting? We said he was ‘a little bit off his game’, hardly scathing. At his best he’s Ulster’s most creative player, we all know how good he is. I heard a rumour he’s been carrying a couple of niggles, which would explain things, so don’t be too surprised if he has a bit of a rest over the coming weeks. They need him back in his pomp for the knockouts. Him and Alex Goode will be worth the entrance fee alone in the quarter-final.

          • Amiga500

             /  January 21, 2014

            I think the Morris try came after a knock on (from Payne) which then had Payne caught in a ruck on the far side.

            It was poor identification of that from the backs which meant no sweeper and hence the room for the kick behind.

    • abitofshoepie

       /  January 20, 2014

      The fact that Ulster arent currently firing on all cylinders give me a lot of comfort. Ulster peaked really early last season, with performance levels and results tapering off after the storming of Ravers by Hartley and co. Its obviously much better to peak in April and May. Here’s hoping its a Leicesterish trend that results in a trophy or two!

  12. Yossarian

     /  January 20, 2014

    in a good weekend for (2/4) Irish rugby the two stand out negatives have to be BOD and POM. i have never seen O’Driscoll play so poorly. Bar releasing Luke Fitz up the wing in 5m of space virtually every other time he touched the ball he did the wrong thing. POM wasn’t anywhere near as poor but yet again for me he was third best of the Munster backrow. Coughlan was excellent,clearly hurting from his 6 nations omission. TOD was powerful and seemed to pop up a lot linking as well as carrying.POM seemed to go missing for long spells of the game-i don’t see the logic of using a player like him as an auxiliary winger.
    both would be expected to feature in the 6 nations,both will have to improve to varying degrees.

    • Was O’Mahony that bad? It’s rare that all three flankers in a backrow excel, usually one of them has a quieter game. He’s having a good season anyway so I wouldn’t be overly worried about a quiet game or two. Maybe he was busy doing some #unseenwork?

      We’ll be talking in depth about the O’Driscoll question as the Six Nations looms into view…

    • hulkinator

       /  January 20, 2014

      You’re always having a go at POM. Munster fans have a player rating system this season and all players are averaging between 6 and 7.2 with the exception of POM who is averaging 7.4. In other words Munsters best player this season.

      • toro toro

         /  January 21, 2014

        Yes, that is what that shows.

      • He’s having a good season – and is a quietly effective captain. Tell us about this rating system – where can we see it?

        • hulkinator

           /  January 21, 2014

          Go into munsterfans site. Up near the top there’s as long that says ‘ratings’. Click on that. You can vote after each match but I think you must be a member.

          • That’s pretty cool I must say, and generally fair. Link for others who are interested: http://www.munsterfans.com/rater/

            There are a few homer selections there however – JJ Hanrahan has been down as ahead of Keatley all season, yet its Keatley who has started every HEC game, and Ivan Dineen is rated as the best centre.

            The top-rated 23 looks like a B team – pity performances can’t be weighted by opposition – I imagine this is due to the Dragons at home being the same as Perpignan away in the calculation.

      • Amiga500

         /  January 21, 2014

        A rating system running on the subjectivity of fans?

        Sure two great runs over the course of a game will hide an awful lot of non-work.

    • Made the third-most tackles in the side, was a disruptive influence on the opposition lineout, and scored the bonus point try, muscling his way past two men, one of whom was Dave Denton, from five metres out. It wasn’t his very best performance, but he looked pretty decent from where I was sitting and the stats confirmed this. He was also carrying a stinger of some sort, was limping quitre badly at the start of the game, so I was impressed he stayed on at all.

      • Yeah, but thoughtless, he didn’t make The Big Run, so he must have been poor. I think O’Mahony has definitely been among Munster’s best players this season, but as Amiga500 says, I wouldn’t attach much meaning to that Munsterfans rating system. It has Duncan Casey on the same rating as Paul O’Connell for Gawd’s sake, and Sheridan is keeping Murray on the bench at scrum half.

        And Johne Murphy’s having a good season, no question, but filling three different positions in the backline at the same time strikes me as beyond even a man of his exceptional ability.

        • hulkinator

           /  January 21, 2014

          Casey has been very good but he has played too little to get a proper estimate. I never rate players on for less than 20 main for similar reasons.

          Regarding Hanrahan, he has been easily better than keatley this season. He practically won the away match to Glasgow himself. He hasn’t started any hec games and that’s what we have to take into account when viewing the ratings. They’re accurate for players who play often and in big games.

          Dineen has been the best centre but like Hanrahan he hasn’t played in the big games too often. Downey and Lualala have been a big disappointment.

          I don’t think the fans are biased either. POC is the most favourite player by far in
          Munster and he is down rankings. POM from my point of view has been the best player for Munster since he came on the scene. He is constantly one of the best performers and that’s reflected in the rankings.

          The top 23 category needs to be refined a bit. Overall its a good system but not 100% accurate.

          • Paddy

             /  January 21, 2014

            It’s a funny system. I had a good laugh at it. As you’d expect it suffers from fans picking favorites and working off the highlight reel in their heads. Hanrahan practically lost the HEC game to Edinburgh himself. That said he’s had some good showings against poor opposition and is improving.

          • I think Paddy has it right. Hulkinator, you cannot convince me that the fans are ‘unbiased’. All rugby fans have players they can only see the best in and those they can only see the bad in. Eveyone wants to annoint the latest academy graduate as a genius, it’s only natural, and especially if some journeyman/import/Leinster reject is keeping them out of the team. Those on the often delerious Munsterfans forum are probably an especially excitable group. Dineen has been the best centre and Hanrahan the best 10… yet for some reason they can’t get picked for a Heineken Cup match? Where’s the glitch?

          • hulkinator

             /  January 22, 2014

            Hanrahan simply has been the best 10. Not to say keatley has been bad but Hanrahan is a potentially world class. His passing, running threat, highest kicking percentage in the rabo, he has scored some important tries, his kicking from hand is very good also and he creates space for those around him. He isn’t playing because Penney doesn’t want to rush him and also at the start of the season Penney said keatley was first choice for this season.

            Dineen has not been great but he has been good to solid. Downey and Lualala have played 80 games for Munster and scored 3 tries between them!

      • Yossarian

         /  January 21, 2014

        Beating the same Denton who watched Murphy skip by him!?!i am hoping the scots pick him against Ireland!it’s O’Mahonys ability to not be involved in any phase of attack that goes up to 11 or 12 phases in contrast to TOD who offloads, follows his pass,rucks over and later appears to carry again. All the while O’Mahony is hovering beside the touchline. He isn’t Tom Croft who if the ball does arrive out to him he will make a 50m run. I would like to see him in the midfield either linking(which he was doing very well for Ireland) or making some carries/doing some scut work. I don’t know if its management instruction or just an inability to get involved. Either way scoring a try doesn’t mask this failings.

  13. mikebrad

     /  January 20, 2014

    Great result for Ulster. Pienaar was awesome but he was given a fantastic platform by the forwards. Great performances from Tuohy, Wilson, Henry and Rory “kicking out of hand that ROG would have been proud of” Best. Then aul Tommie Court comes on and gives Dan Cole what for in the scrum! Bit disappointed that The IT went for the potential Leinster v Munster semi as a headline rather than the actual fact that an Irish side won 6 out of 6 and beat the English Champions on their own patch. Couldn’t even send over a reporter – flippin’ Guardian service!

    Bitter northern rant over!

    • Want some bitterness – how about this. 15 nominees for ERC POTY – only 1 group winner doesn’t get 2, and that’s Ulster, all other groups winners got at least 2. Toulon got 3 for sleepwalking through a cakewalk pool, and Ulster got one for 6 wins from 6, 4 of which were against quarter-finalists last year. Miles Benjamin got as many as Ulster did.

      Oh, and Second Captains described Ulster as “most improved” – really? From last season’s group stage?

      Talk about pats on the head ..

      • Patrick O'Riordan

         /  January 22, 2014

        At least Second Captains did a feature on Ulster’s resurgence and had an interesting interview with DHumph. Ulster are always a poor third when it comes to the “Off the Ball” podcast content and running order.

      • Xyz

         /  January 22, 2014

        Are you saying that Ulster *aren’t* much better than the side last year? To me this year’s side looks much more battle hardened and with much more self belief.

  14. hulkinator

     /  January 20, 2014

    Great win for Ulster. They played really well and now they’re starting to believe in themselves. Leinster and Munster performed well too. You can only beat what’s in front of you.

  15. Yossarian

     /  January 22, 2014

    Interesting assessment of who actually had the toughest pool. I guess most people acknowledged Leinster had the toughest group when the draw was made and it is carried out by this analysis.
    http://tapandgorugby.com/2014/01/20/leinster-escape-top-ranked-pool-ulster-shut-tigers-accountability-connacht/

    • That’s interesting … yet fairly simplistic. Castres might be 3rd in the Top 14 and Toulon 5th, but who is going to come ovber to win the game and who will send the B’s over to have thir bellies tickled?

  16. Ro

     /  January 22, 2014

    Ulster were superb last weekend and to get six from six in that group was some achievement. The form team in Europe for me at the moment and with home advantage in the quarters and semi’s must be favourates for the final. Picking an opponent for the final is a bit more difficult. Toulon are in a similar position to Ulster with the possibility of two home games before the final but just not so sure about them. Loads of talent but some sharey performances so far, admittedly away from home. Not a Toulon fan though as I detest the idea of buying every player and therefore buying the silverware. So Ulster v anyone but Toulon in Cardiff!

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