Are Ulster the new Munster?

Ulster fans will not have been surprised to note that the headline of the Irish Times on Monday was not about the best game of the group stages, an epic sack of Welford Road, but about a potential Leinster-Munster semi-final should both prevail against French nouveau riche™ and aristocrats™ respectively.

Nor will they have been surprised to see under-representation on the ERC Player of the Year long list published yesterday – Ulster were the only group winner to have a single nomination, with four others getting two each and Toulon getting three for sleepwalking through a gimme pool. Ulster recorded four wins against quarter-finalists of last years tournament (two away from home) and were left with the same number of nominees as also-rans Northampton Saints. Miles Benjamin got one for Gawd’s sake.

This isn’t to say any of the 15 are obviously undeserving candidates, all had a good pool stages, but did all 15 have a greater influence on the pool stages than, say, Chris Henry?

Further, Ulster were described as “most improved” on Second Captains – where we went to school, “most improved” was a pat on the head for the guy or girl who wasn’t at the races but needed a bit of encouragement to keep the head up.

In truth, Humph probably won’t mind this one bit – Ulster are slowly adjusting to their new status in Irish rugby, a status where Munster and Leinster enjoy the lion’s share of column inches, Ireland caps and profile. It used to be said in the 80s that Ulster players got easy caps (ask Ger Earls, something of a cause celebre in his day) – not any more. This well of bitterness that is building up within the Ulster team and support is something Deccie tapped very effectively when Munster coach – in his first stint, he would refer to Francois Pienaar’s Saracens as “the Man United of rugby” and talk about how Toulouse had no respect for Munster. The pats on the head about passion became condescending enough that Munster decided to do something about it – by hoovering up silverware.

Ulster look like they are heading the same direction – their under-representation (percieved or otherwise) on Joe Schmidt’s Ireland team during the Six Nations is likely to be an advantage come April, and the sense of grievance will be a powerful motivator for players and fans as the season goes on.

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84 Comments

  1. While I would say that every club uses perceived sleights and bitterness (Leinster & Connacht too) it’s a very good point indeed. Tuohy and Cave’s recent utterances indicate a siege mentality beginning to form up norf.

    They’ll need to win something this season though or the perennial bridesmaids tag will start to stick. Munster and most notably Leinster all made hay while the sun shined.

    • Bowe Gathers

       /  January 22, 2014

      A seige mentality up north? Never been accused of that before now have we…

  2. Most improved might just mean… most improved, from a team that hardly featured in the knock-out stages for close to a decade, v Leinster and Munster who have won the competition five times between them in the last number of years, as well as reaching more semi-finals and consistently escaping the groups.

    Humphreys himself said on Second Captains Ulster had a little ground to make up on Leinster and Munster – and he’s right, they need to win a Heineken Cup, or two.

    They look great this year but you don’t have to look far beyond actual facts and actual victories to see why they’re not yet taken as seriously as Munster and Leinster.

    As recently as last year they were beaten fairly easily by Saracens, the year before Leinster didn’t have a hugely difficult job against them in the final, I’d say most people will sit up and take notice when they win the Heineken Cup again.

    If that’s this year, so be it.

    • Munster’s wins are as relevant to now as Ulster’s form between 06 and 08, ie. not at all, as it’s a totally different team. Does anyone write them off quite so readily?

      The current side have qualified four years running from the group stages (and has also won four of its last five group games in England, and the last two in France – both against recent Top 14 champions), for a total HEC record of 22 wins and seven defeats.

      Maybe the fact you find a way to so blithely dismiss us getting to the final two years ago (qualifying from a group with both Clermont and Leicester, winning away at Thomond in the QF, all that) is indicative of the fact you’re very much underestimating this side?

      If it’s winning trophies that gets you taken seriously – Clermont have only won the French title once in over 100 years, and never won the HEC. Bunch of jokers, they are, no chance!

      I don’t think we’ll win the cup – Toulon or Clermont look best placed IMO – but we certainly can. We might get bundled out by Sarries again in the quarters, we might not, very open competition this year, but I’ll stick with my two favourites. Still, I hope we do well.

      • I’m just saying that the use of “most improved” isn’t some heinous sleight, that was the context in which I mentioned Ulster’s form over a decade or so, it’s hard to argue that they aren’t the most improved Irish side.

        To improve you must start from a position where improvement is needed! That’s not patronising, it’s just a fact.

        It’s a fair point, sort of, about Clermont, but you’d have to say that they gave Leinster a far closer game in the semi-finals that year than Ulster did in the final. And last year the hype grew for them because they beat the then-champions home and away. I’d say chokers rather than jokers though.

        I’m not dismissing Ulster by any means, I’m a Leinster fan but I always want to see them do well (not patronising, I also would with Munster or Connacht, my family is scattered enough for me not to be partisan about Dublin.

        I think they have a great chance of winning this year, I just don’t think they’re hard done by, particularly, or looked down on. Any rugby fans I know were raving about them after last weekend.

        Maybe the problem is just the media representing their core audiences.

        I also don’t really think there’s an under-representation of Ulster players at national level, or at least, under a new manager, I’d wait and see, Kidney’s era is over.

        Not sure who’s been left out that demands inclusion, the stand-out Ulster players in their positions are already featuring.

        Perhaps Jackson, Henderson, Cave, Fitzpatrick, etc can change that in time.

        • We’re not really a massive amount better than in the past two seasons, is my point. If your timeframe is between 2007 and now then yes, we are one of the most improved sides around. However, we’ve been at or near the sharp end for a couple of seasons now, don’t think it should be a big surprise that we’re doing well.

          • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there LarryM. Ulster have made the knockouts four times in a row now, and have been to the semi-finals twice in the last three seasons. If anything they’re incrementally improving each season, but it’s hardly been a massive leap from also-rans to contenders.

          • Joe

             /  January 23, 2014

            Don’t think they’ve made the SF twice recently (1 final, 2 QF beatings in UK).

            Can’t argue with the crux of the point though, they are at the top table consistently now.

          • Well, in getting to the final, they had to make the semi-final. I guess we should have said ‘at least the semi-final’…

  3. @Completebore

     /  January 22, 2014

    This week’s coverage of Ulster was hugely irritating. The IT didn’t even bother sending a reporter to the game and used Eddie Butler’s report from the Granuiad. Off The Ball tacked the Ulster game on the end of their Monday Night Rugby (and had Quinny stating that Ruan wasn’t a world-class scrum-half, a good athlete alright, but not a great scrum-half). The professional culchie who does the sport on Today FM on Monday wrote them off from winning the competition (he knows nothing about rugby but that should be a reason to keep quiet).

    Every round-up and report I see (honourable exception to Whiff) is equating the tasks Munster and Leinster had last weekend (home games against an Embra team who stole a living for 80 minutes and 14 men for an hour respectively) to Ulster beating the English Champions away.

    And I know when the 6N team selection guesswork comes out (until Thornley has his usual accurate ‘guess’) will write off a bunch of battle-hardened Ulster players for Munster and Leinster fringe players with ‘loads of potential’.

    The only way to turn the perception around is to win something of course.

    • Barry

       /  January 22, 2014

      Forza Ulster!

    • If you want to build a proper siege mentality you’ll need better nemeses on your sh1t-list than that lobotomised Daithí Ó Sé tribute act on Today FM; your arse knows more about snipe shooting, to borrow one of my oul lad’s favourite phrases.

      • @Completebore

         /  January 22, 2014

        Oh, I know he’s a complete gombeen and there’s a good chance I was the only soul in Belfast listening to Today FM on Monday morning so I doubt its feeding into anybody’s rage except mine, but it was just one of the drip-drip of annoyances I had over the last few days.

      • Paddy

         /  January 22, 2014

        Nice!

  4. Leinsterlion

     /  January 22, 2014

    If Ulster dont do it this year they wont for the forseeable future imo(barring signing some heavy artillery for the backs and a replacement for Muller in the summer), I think its make or break as where can they go from here with the squad they have?

    • @Completebore

       /  January 22, 2014

      I take the point on Muller (if he goes) and losing two-thirds of the front-row is the major concern for next year.

      But the backs? Payne, Bowe, Trimble, Cave, Gilroy and Bam-Bam will all be there. Along with some promising kids (Olding, Allen and prob some more and I can’t remember and/or haven’t seen yet). And don’t foget Paddy Wallace is still knocking around.

      Yeah, there’s concerns for the squad for next year, but the backs wouldn’t be one for me.

      • Aye, the backs are fine. I’d love to see Olding push Marshall/Jackson for their jerseys next season. Our attack has definitely been significantly blunter this season compared to last though, so that needs work.

        Muller (massive leadership qualities aside) isn’t such a loss as Henderson will probably start getting more starts at lock, but the real worry for me is Afoa and Court leaving. Deccie Fitz and Callum Black are fairly significant drops down.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  January 22, 2014

        Bowe a year older, Trimble a year older, Cave not sold on him, P.Wall all a bit samey. Gilroy and Bam Bam will hopefully press on ditto Payne. I dunno, I still feel they need something extra in the backs, just to give them a different option, you have to constantly evolve to maintain the level you have already reached.

        Have they not replaced all the front row guys they have lost though?

        • Patrick O'Riordan

           /  January 22, 2014

          … there are rumours there will be a few new signing announcements from Ulster in the next few days although nothing to replace the departing Afoa and Court.

        • @Completebore

           /  January 22, 2014

          Well, yeah, that’s how it works. We all get a year older each year. Both Bowe and Trimble will be 30/31 next year, not pensionable by Irish back levels. You’re entitled to your opinion on Cave and I included Wallace mainly as a joke as he’s squad-filler level at best right now. Attack needs to improve, everybody’s aware of that, but I’m not sure its where the signings (NIQ or otherwise) should be focussed.

          If they’ve signed front-rows they’ve kept it very quiet, it looks like next season the starting props would be Declan Fitzpatrick and Callum Black. That’ll strike fear into the hearts of opponents.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  January 22, 2014

            When I say they are a year older, I mean they are hardly going to get better.harharhar

  5. Don Alfonso

     /  January 22, 2014

    Why should Ulster need to win something to get any worthwhile coverage?

    We’re not talking about biased know-nothings waffling in a corner of the pub. We’re talking about professional sports journalism.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  January 22, 2014

      Exactly. Their job as professionals is to make money. Leinster v Munster sells more

      • Don Alfonso

         /  January 22, 2014

        So tell me again how the principle of the licence fee works? People from Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan pay the same amount, right?

        • Patrick O'Riordan

           /  January 22, 2014

          They may pay the same amount but they are about 6% of the population of the Republic…

          • Don Alfonso

             /  January 22, 2014

            Yeah, I’m not sure a state broadcaster who makes everyone pay for the privilege of TV and radio can just shrug and say, “there’s not many of them, you know. So we can’t give their team – one of a whole four professional outfits – any real, meaningful coverage, whatever happens on the field”.

          • Bushmills

             /  January 23, 2014

            I love it when our friends down south get all high and mighty about media markets. Given that Canal+ will pay £60m for their domestic league, have a guess what RTE agreed for the Rabo? £900k.

            You can see why the English take the hump about revenue share. Ego/TV money ratio is somewhat imbalanced in the blue and red provinces.

          • Stevo

             /  January 23, 2014

            There’s that siege-mentality, Bushmills.

    • As loathe as I am to defend RTE, BBC also have rights to some Ulster games so there firstly will be games they can’t show and secondly it would be market dilution to show the same game as a rival broadcaster at the same time.

      Also, I do believe that as a public service broadcaster, if it is a choice between serving the interests or a larger or smaller amount of license payers, it’s not reprehensible to go for the larger group. Also, RTE do not have the luxury of being fully funded by the license fee a la the BBC, we don’t have a big enough population base for that. so there are also commercial demands to be met. Larger audiences for the other 3 provinces means more advertising revenue which can go back into superior sports coverage.

      In summary, I don’t see much of an imbalance here. I also don’t really see the point in the Canal + comparison. We’re a fraction of the size of the French audience and generate a fraction of the revenue.

      This is the nicest I have ever been about RTE. Ever.

  6. Speaking as an Ulster fan who’s lived in Dublin for half his life, it’s a fairly familiar story* – these are Irish news outlets, and whatever the dreams of a 32-county Ireland, Leinster, Munster and even Connacht are still the “home” teams, while Ulster exist in a weird no-man’s-land, participation in the Irish squad notwithstanding. That’s not going to change, even if Ulster start laying waste to all around them, and I’d rather have them competitive with two/three other top-tier Irish provinces than have that come to pass.

    Still, the Leicester game was a pleasure to watch, as it seemed to mark the end of a midseason lull stretching back to the Montpellier away match. There’s been a lot of careful team-building work going on around Ravenhill, and having the Saracens to visit is going to be a huge marker for what this team is capable of. I don’t agree with Leinsterlion that this is a make-or-break year – there’s a core of young, talented players around which the team can revolve for years to come – but having gotten themselves into such a good position, the onus is on them to make the most of it. Motivation, like satire, is usually easier when you’re punching up rather than punching down, so as long as it puts a spur into them, I’m happy enough to have Ulster as the black sheep of the Irish rugby establishment.

    *I also support West Brom, so I’m well acquainted with searching the sports pages for any mention of my favourites.

  7. Paddy

     /  January 22, 2014

    No certainly not. Neither Brave nor Faithful enough. Not salty or earthy enough either.

    Seriously though. No they’ve won nothing. Even in transition Munster won a Pro12. Not that I don’t respect what they accomplished. It was a mostly tough pool(treviso aside) with some good-great performances from a few players. Slightly hard done by with the ERC longlist but 1 or 2 more could come into the reckoning in the knockouts. Henry in particular should Armitage and Lee be out of the reckoning by final time.

    The lack of air time and recognition from the southern media is probably reflective of circulation in Ulster. The non-selection of Ulster players with 1/2 exceptions isn’t that controversial though IMO(Taking into account injuries etc). Tuohys ommision seems the strangest. The rest we’ve been over before.

  8. I actually thought thescore was fantastic in the coverage, they had tons of articles on what Ulster had done right etc, which was what kept me sane this week.

  9. TJ Hooker

     /  January 22, 2014

    I think that there’s a perception that much of Ulster’s recent success is due to the Southern Hemisphere backbone in their team (particularly Pienaar and Muller), and this comes into play when Ireland selection is up for grabs. I mean, I’d certainly pick Pienaar and Muller for Ireland, and Afoa, but…

    • @Completebore

       /  January 22, 2014

      This is the one that galls me the most. Like Howlett and Nacewa and Contepomi and Elsom and all the rest weren’t important for Munster and Leinster.

      • TJ Hooker

         /  January 22, 2014

        To some extent that’s true, but in those far off days it was hardly as if Ulster were offering any great alternatives for Ireland squads.

        • Yossarian

           /  January 23, 2014

          i think there is an Ulster perception that the the other provinces resent their overseas contingent!i don’t!i really want Ulster to win it this year(best chance of the Irish)and build on that gradually replacing their overseas contingent(payne becomes irish, Henderson develops to fill Muller void, and indigenous prop/No.8) the same way Leinster replaced Whittaker,contepomi,Elsom,Van Der Linde from their first cup success to their most recent H-Cup win.You can only gain certain experience by winning, the irish players develop from that and can carry it on when these guys leave.

    • I dunno, the make-up of the Ulster side in terms of key imports is markedly different from nearly all of the Munster and Leinster wins.

      For Munster in 2006, Halstead was hugely important, but not exactly a world-class player dragging others over the line. Then you had Shaun Payne and Poochy as the other non-Irish players in the 23. In 2008, there was Howlett, Tipoke, and Mafi, one of whom was a world-class import (Howlett), one whom had as decisive an impact as Halstead (Tipoki) and another of whom was a fairly raw player who never went on to look as good as he did then (Mafi).

      For Leinster in 2009, they were hugely reliant on Elsom to drag them over the line with a series of phenomenal performances (including one game-turning hit in the semi-final on Keith Earls from a position that was about three metres offside), and Contepomi played a huge role in the run-up to the semi too. Then in the final, they started with Stan Wright, Rocky, Chris Whitaker, and Isa. That’s probably the closest to the current Ulster side of the decorated Irish sides, and even then, Wright and Whitaker didn’t define the side in the same way as Pienaar, Payne, Muller (captain!), and Afoa do Ulster. Only Elsom and Nacewa come close to those four players. And that’s without counting Nick Williams who often starts ahead of Wilson at 8.

      In 2011, things were fairly different, with Leinster starting three key NIQ players (Strauss, who has gone on to become IQ, Hines, and Isa). Van Der Merwe and Wright were on the bench. Then in 2012, Leinster started with two key NIQ players, Isa and Brad Thorn, and Van Der Merwe and White on the bench.

      If Ulster didn’t have Pienaar they’d have Paul Marshall at 9 and their chances at a HEC would be shot. If they didn’t have Afoa, they’d have Deccie Fitz, who’d spend a huge amount of time injured, leaving them relying on Adam Macklin, and their chances at a HEC would be shot. Without Payne, Ulster would have Gilroy at 15, who, for all his talents, would be a big step down. And Muller is the captain, even though the drop-off between a Tuohy-Muller partnership and a Henderson-Tuohy partnership is not a great one.

      Aside from maybe 2009, neither of Munster or Leinster were as dependent on NIQs in terms of quantity or star quality for their championship years. That’s what people are getting at when they make noises about NIQs being the backbone of the team, and it seems fair to me. Thankfully, it needn’t be the case for much longer with Ulster’s academy producing at a decent clip, albeit with some positional gaps.

  10. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  January 22, 2014

    Second Captains did actually do a decent feature on Ulster with an interesting interview with DHumph. Off the Ball is invariably a rushed 20 seconds just after a detailed analysis of Leinster and Munster’s good, bad or indifferent form and just before the token mention of Connacht.

    However I’d agree with the comments that these meeja outlets, along with the newspapers like the IT and Indo are just playing to their audience and their audience is predominantly south of the border.

    I’d also agree that Ulster need to win the HEC to be treated seriously. Winning a Pro12 doesn’t mean you are treated seriously in the Irish media.

    Mind you, Munster still had plenty of coverage before winning a HEC, but then they had the narrative of many years of tears, pashun and heartbreak. And Leinster had plenty of coverage before winning a HEC, but then they had the narrative of being choking ladyboys, not up to the level of the liginds.

    The meeja just haven’t come up with a narrative for Ulster. Probably because they just don’t care enough.

  11. Exile

     /  January 22, 2014

    Just to pick up on one point..

    Toulon got 3 players nominated for Player of the Year.

    Yes, they may have had a very easy pool in the Heineken Cup. However, that was in the 2nd half of the year. In the first half of they year, they won the pot.

    So, is it entirely unreasonable for the reigning champions of Europe to have 3 players recognised for their contribution in the entirety of the year, as the name of the award suggests?

    Unless, of course, the “year” in the title means 2013/14 season. In which case I will happily take my ignorant pedantic smugness and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine…

    • Stevo

       /  January 23, 2014

      The year in the title does actually refer to the playing season, hence Jonny Wilkinson was ERC Player of the Year 2013. I’d suggest using plenty of lube.

  12. You’re certainly right to note the Dublin media does not give Ulster much coverage, although I’m reasonably confident the Belfast Telegraph isn’t devoting pages to Peter O’Mahoney every week over Ian Henderson.

    Ulster qualified in a strong position, and crucially improved on their qualification standing compared to the last two years. That’s undoubted progress. However I don’t agree that the ERC longlist is particularly discriminatory – Ulster do not have a lot of exceptional players who are banging down the door to be in a european or world XV right now.

    Many Ulster fans here and across the interwebs seem to think Tuohy has been robbed despite the fact that he is actually in the Ireland camp (which you almost wouldn’t know from his whinging). Tuohy claimed DOC is ahead of him for Ireland duty despite the fact that DOC is effectively retired internationally, but otherwise he was pretty accurate in stating he is around the 5th choice lock in the country. This news has come as a massive shock to many Ulster fans who insist he is the form lock in the country. How can this incongruity be explained? The simple answer is red hand tinted glasses are at work when it comes to Cave and Tuohy, which in conjunction with the issue of a media blackout seems all the more acceptable.

  13. mikebrad

     /  January 22, 2014

    Whilst the southern media were busy not caring about ulster the bel tel staff were beavering away putting together a poster of “30 reasons ruan pienaar is awesome”. The man is basically a saint – it was a severe case of man crush journalism. I think ulster need to strengthen the front row for next season due to the injury prone fitz and paddy mac and probably another second row or decent back up 7 to henry

  14. Tommy Kennedy

     /  January 22, 2014

    Ulster won’t win anything. Far too reliant on Pienaar who can be shut down (Boss and Murray have shown this) and their back row is pretty average too. Henry is good but after that your talking about average players unless Fez comes back.

    • Murray has shown Pienaar can be shut down? When? Last time I checked Ulster have a great record against Munster

    • Sam

       /  January 23, 2014

      Did you copy that ‘murray and boss have shown this’ fallacy directly from a comment on thescore.ie or are you the guy who said it and was promptly told what a spoofer he was?

      Please inform everyone when Boss and Murray were responsible for shutting Pienaar down in a match, and how they went about it. Please explain how this lead to the win rather than the team playing collectively better, or the Ulster team collectively worse.

      Has Murray even played against Pienaar in a Munster victory?

  15. Ciano

     /  January 22, 2014

    It’s not as if Leinster didn’t ride the crest of an Angst-Wave in 2009 either!

    Remember how a stiletto was a Leinsterman’s rugby boot?

    TBF, I wouldn’t worry too much about the ITs coverage. Thronley et al often print things that aren’t even things and this is why rugby fans come to places like this and the mole to get away from that retarded and platitudinous journalism.

    Ulster’s star is rising, but that won’t be seen by wafflers in the meeja until they have some trophies; and even then it’ll be a shock surprise. This is because writers like that think in terms of catchy jangles instead of actual happenings on the pitch!

  16. I agree, that the coverage of the Ulster rugby team by the Dublin meeja is appalling and indicative of a general “partitionist mentality”, which makes my blood BOIL at the best of times!!!! I think Ulster have done very well this year. I’ve watched a good few of their matches and have been impressed. Olding particularly is a most promising talent. The win in Welford Road was magnificent. That said, the loss after Xmas in the RDS – a match in which Leinster fielded a rookie centre pairing – revealed that Ulster’s all-singing, all-dancing back-line is perhaps not yet the finished product. I hope the Ulster men absolutely mash Sarries in Ravenhill. The notion, that they might be “bundled out again” – I quote Larry M – by Globo Gym, is an appalling vista and must under no circumstances be allowed to happen. SUFTUM – says this Leinster fan.

    • Paddy o

       /  January 22, 2014

      Not wishing to stir up a political shitstorm, but as someone from Ulster and from the “non traditional rugby community” (to quote WoC), it is disappointing to feel excluded a bit in some southern coverage. RTE’s online stuff usually says “island of Ireland only” and yet seems inaccessible in the north (I don’t think it’s my technological ineptitude, though I will apologise if wrong). Whatever way your politics go….and I do understand the license fee issues if that is the actual problem….but last time I did geography tommy bowe did not grow up on a beach resort.

      For radio I would give credit to rte and today fm in that you get great reception at least as far as Belfast, but newstalk – which I would attempt to listen to at times – is terrible. I understand that for the papers the environment is about as tough as the hunger games at the minute and they have to scratch the back that feeds them to mix a few metaphors, but there is a ravers paying public who are not well served by the Belfast Telly or Irish news, both of which are now insular themselves. Sky cover the four provinces (I am loathe to say franchises) better than we ourselves. Tara really.

      On the other hand I don’t think Ulster’s players are being, or have been unfairly treated by either kidney or Schmidt. Their best players this past number of years have been Afoa, best, muller, Henry, pienaar, Payne. Two of them are Irish qualified. One has been a captain, the other is not a shoot the lights out international star (that don’t mean he isn’t good or effective – “a kind of openside dan lydiate” I think the mole captured him well). I like cave, but he failed the test against leinster’s midfield in the European final a few years ago – badly. No shame in that, but that’s been his competition and they’ve been better. They handled him a bit too easily. He has been excellent this year though and has absolutely backed up his talk (as roger Wilson has backed it up too). Tuohy is another who is improving. His lead with the knee or elbow carries are unlikely to cut much ice against bigger (international) packs, but he has added more to his all round game and must now be considered a strong competitor for a shot in the row. I don’t think he was truly a contender until recently though. I think Trimble has been unlucky. Eddie liked him and played him a good bit at 12 (went well I thought). He has been prone to the odd clanger positionally and with his handling, but that aggressive hard running has perhaps been under used internationally, though it doesn’t seem Schmidt goes in for backs who can do something spectacular, but then struggle with basics. I think the one selection that annoyed the ulster fans I speak to most of all was rog over Dhumph! They still talk about it! That’s a whole other discussion though. It is hard not to see a better ulster representation being earned over the next few years though, some super young players and solid older heads – will be a chance for joe to unite the clans.

  17. zdm

     /  January 22, 2014

    Ulster were everyones favourite cousin until they actually started to win matches. When Pienaar et al were signed it was great news, they might even help develop the youth. Now that Ulster are winning, all these foreign stars are keeping Irish players out of the team! (despite this being demonstrably false)

    To listen to the indo, you’d think Afoa was propping both sides of the scrum, Muller catching every line out (on crutches) and that Pienaar was passing the ball directly to Payne each time. The problem is, this nonsense has weevilled it’s was in to the Irish rugby conscience and is now believed by the majority of Irish rugby fans who clearly don’t watch Ulster play.

    • Spot on. Yes Pienaar is magnificent but he didn’t kick the inch perfect, snow covered Garryowen that led to his try. Nor is he that prominent in the phenomenal defence in which Best, Henry and Cave are the most important cogs. Regrettably, Ger Gilroy used the Pienaar, Muller and Afoa aren’t IQ line on Second Captains tonight – disappointing.

      • Paddy

         /  January 23, 2014

        Isn’t Ger Gilroy the tool who took over Off The Ball(from the 2nd Captains) who said that the D4tress sign in the RDS was offensive. One can only imagine how he felt about people chanting in joy at the idea of a man on fire(“Yeah OH…….That Sextons on fire!”)

      • aoifehamill

         /  January 23, 2014

        Doubt Ger Gilroy was on Second Captains – he’s still on Newstalk (he’s main presenter at weekend rather than during the week I think & is much better than the midweek crowd in my opinion). Sorry – sports radio minutiae are a bit off topic!

    • Xyz

       /  January 23, 2014

      People pointing to the NIQ backbone of Ulster isn’t complaining that they are keeping hard working natives out of a job. The best guys on a provincial team are going to be in the running for a call up to Ireland; if the majority of the best guys aren’t IQ (Mueller, Pienaar, Afoa, Payne (yet)) then guess what, they won’t get capped for Ireland. This isn’t controversial and is a long way from Farmer Farrelly’s misrepresentation of Ulster in 2011.

    • Sam

       /  January 23, 2014

      I always notice in the headlines after many league wins, that Pienaar was the standout player, when he has actually underperformed or even had a bit of a stinker. RTE are the worst for this.

  18. TJ Hooker

     /  January 22, 2014

    People have to acknowledge that Pienaar in particular has made a huge difference to Ulster. He directs their whole game and is often the difference between them winning and losing. I expect this to have positive ramifications for Ulster in future, a little like how Leinster needed Elsom to first taste success, something they have managed to maintain after his departure.

  19. L.P.O.

     /  January 22, 2014

    Who says Ulster will be under-represented on Joe’s Ireland side? 13-odd years of inept Corkonian coaches picking their BFFs is over- Schmidt is a serious coach. I am certain he will select, if he truly has a free hand, the best man for the team at every opportunity. Whom exactly can you foresee him leaving out that would constitute a glaring omission?

  20. Will

     /  January 23, 2014

    Yes, definitely not enough made of Ulster’s brilliant win in Leicester and 6 wins.
    Too little Ulster in general media.
    Too much on WOC. That’s 3 articles on a row. Yawn…..

  21. 3 articles in a row based around Ulster – right that’s your quota done for the year! ;P

    • Paddy

       /  January 23, 2014

      +1
      Rugbys not Munster and you’re not Gerry….yet

  22. Thanks everyone for a great below the line contribution, really interesting to get your thoughts on this one. There’s definitely something to the argument that the Irish meeja outlets are playing a numbers game, with most of their constituents in the more southerly provinces, but I still think we can expect more from them. Ulster are the story of this year’s pool (this is the Leinster half btw) and deserve the allocades as a result.

    • aoifehamill

       /  January 23, 2014

      There’s definitely something in it alright. The pro-Munster bias in RTE coverage is very irritating. You’d think after they played Ulster after Christmas, they’d just played Treviso for all the talk they did about Ulster in the analysis. There’s probably plenty of Leinster bias in other outlets but I don’t notice it so much being a fan myself!

    • I think it’s interesting that even the Rabo’s Jackson column focused more on Munster hosting Toulouse (which was more down to Toulouse opening the door to Munster more than anything) than Ulster’s clean sweep. I think a lot of it is (coming back to the title) probably down to Ulster not having much of a “history” yet, whereas Munster and Leinster have developed their Liginds™ through toiling for a few seasons before finally winning.

      Who knows, maybe Sarries will be to us what Toulouse were to Munster or what Clermont were to Leinster!

    • WoC, one thing to remember is that the folk who frequent here are not necessarily (or just are not) a representative sample of those who would consider reading the sports pages of a newspaper. We’re the diehards, by and large, and I’m sure we’d much prefer the coverage to have far more tactics, to be focused on the sport per se, etc etc. That does not necessarily cater well for the more casual fan and/or those who support their local team without taking a particular interest in the fine details of the (very complicated) game.

      Alternatively, market research is a social disease that is homogenising the world and gravitating everything towards an origin point of blandness and superficiality.

      • Stevo

         /  January 23, 2014

        I think this is the real crux of the matter. It’s true that the great majority of the Irish Meeja’s readership lives south of the border, but it doesn’t automatically follow that their rugby coverage should be divided along population percentage lines. I might be a Leinster supporter, but that’s not where my interest ends. I am an Irish rugby fan. I want to read about Munster, Ulster and Connacht almost as much as I do Leinster. Even if I didn’t care about their results, and I do, I’d care about how their various Irish internationals were getting on.

        The years of success at provincial level have seen a huge upswing in the numbers of more casual supporters, and naturally their level of interest in the neighbouring provinces doesn’t quite match that of us diehards. I’m not begrudging these people, we can’t all be rugby nerds, but unfortunately the journalism world has spent years playing to the populist tune of the market researchers, as LarryM points out, so they are the target audience. Journalism is a shambles and the imminent death of print media is not so much a result of the rise of an online alternative, but rather that the newspapers didn’t offering any a product that could compete in the first place.

        • Stevo

           /  January 23, 2014

          “…didn’t offer a product…”

          Started ranting incoherently towards the end there….

  23. Even as a Munster fan, I have to say Ulster are WILDLY under-rated. Smashing defence (they will literally smash you into pieces), brilliant breakdown, powerful runners throughout the team, and some lovely moves to score tries. When they’re on song, I think there are probably only two teams in Europe who can hang with them, Toulon and Clermont. The idea that Munster are favoured as strongly by bookies to win the cup is, unfortunately, ridiculous. I think if Munster have their day when Ulster aren’t at their absolute best, they could beat Ulster, but if you’re looking at consistently high performance levels, Ulster are well ahead.

  24. Yossarian

     /  January 23, 2014

    i Think Ulster are most rugby fans favorite to win this year.If you are from Munster you would rather Ulster than Leinster, and vice versa if from Leinster!Great for Ireland to have Ulster so improved from 4 years ago. Watching the draw i was delighted when Ulster got the “home” semi. I might be a Leinster fan but don’t think we have what it takes this season without Secton(still hard to get used to) and SOB.
    With the off field development i think Ulster will become the dominant Irish team. Leinster will struggle to match due to not owning their ground(akin to the way English clubs suffer) Leinster might have the underage advantage but the new ravenhill stadium and facilities(as well as their share of strong schools!)they can stay on top for the foreseable future.(though with my leinster hat on i Hope i’m wrong!!)

  25. curates_egg

     /  January 23, 2014

    Ulster has been the best Irish side this year and deserve to get more plaudits for sure. However, others have raised the valid (albeit slightly touchy) point that Ulster is an Irish rugby side but also not an ROI side. If you can’t see the very obvious reason why this means they should get less coverage, then that is up to you but it is not realistic. To pick just one example: of the 90-100,000 papers sold by the Irish Times, 4,000 are sold in Northern Ireland. So, on a pure basis of customer distribution and the resulting commercial logic, 5% of Irish Times rugby articles should be devoted to Ulster.

    Also, as pointed out above, the pro-Munster bias in the establishment media in Ireland has been sickening to fans of all three other provinces. So, if Ulster were the new Munster, then they would have the media waxing lyrical about them non-stop, with fanboy articles in the two national dailies and total one-eyed analysis on the national broadcaster. So, your comparison falls flat on its arse right there. Maybe Ulster are the new Leinster but then Leinster were the new Munster back in 2009…and Munster are the old Ulster…and UMMM and Samson Connacht will testify that Connacht are the new Connacht.

    If your point was only that teams use anything they can for motivation, then, yes, teams use whatever they can for motivation – be that underdog status, past defeats, perceived injustices…all coaches will use whatever they can to try and gee their players up.

    I am personally appalled by how little coverage Leinster has gotten in the Belfast Telegraph and on BBC NI over the past 5 years. It must have been the motivation used by Schmidt and Cheika. Well, that, and the utter refusal of Declan Kidney (remember him) to pick form Leinster players in their positions.

    • It must be said, there are (obviously) some purely pragmatic elements to the nature of the coverage – that’s journalism, same everywhere.

      I could gab about that all day – but, what I want to say is that if any province is (treated as) the Smerdyakov of the relationship it’s Connacht. Their deal is more raw than our; certainly no blowhard aul ganch has recently called for us to be liquidated for everyone’s benefit.

      • curates_egg

         /  January 23, 2014

        Yup. Connacht are the new Connacht. Rewrite the blog post. Ulster get far more coverage than they are entitled to based on commercial logic.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  January 23, 2014

      Excellent post

  26. Can’t see Darren Cave getting any less bitter after the Wolfhounds selection – he’s out of position at 12 to accommodate Henshaw. I think it’s a fair bet he won’t appear in another Ireland squad and is only in this one so as not to stoke controversy.

    • Paddy

       /  January 23, 2014

      Yeah I’d have to agree. he might get a chance to switch with Henshaw later in the game with Keatley/Madigan moving to 12 but his chances of a first team place look contingent on an injury crisis. In that case I could Luke Fitz being given a shot too.

  27. Don Alfonso

     /  January 23, 2014

    Possibly the best way I coukd make other Irishers understand why we Ulsterians get so worked up about the Southern nedia is actually a two-word analogy.

    Stuart Barnes.

    Yes, you know you’re not his central market. You know he has no appreciable insight into the sport, particular games or specific teams. You kbow he’s just soothing the fretting heads of his target audience by inflating the quality of their teams and favoured players. You know ultimately, it doesn’t matter what he says. But Christ Almighty it’s frustrating to hear him trot out trite nonsense that is parroted by less discerning rugby watchers. It’s annoying to hear him dismiss your team and give only stilted praise through gritted teeth.

    That’s how the Southern media are for Ulster fans. Swap his love of French red wine for French clichés, and you have Thornley. We have to put up not only with the Barnesyness of Barnes hinself, but the Barnseyness of the O’Barnes down in Dublin.

  28. Shane

     /  January 24, 2014

    Too many of Ulster’s key players are NIQs, especially compared to Munster and Leinster. Name each team’s four most influential players… Leinster have, arguably, Healy, Heaslip, O’Brien and, just hanging in their, Drico. Munster have BJ, O’Connell, O’Mahoney and Murray. Ulster have Pienaar, Payne, Muller and one of the backrow or afoa. These are the players who get selected for internationals teams, the decision makers. Ulster need to increase their Irish leaders. Henry is ahead of O’Donnell partially for that reason.

    • That’s pretty selective to be fair – where is Besty? Henry should definitely be in that group, and what about Wee PJ? Payne is an excellent player, but pencilling him in as a leader just because he wasn’t born in Ireland is cherry-picking data to support your theory. Pienaar and Muller are unarguable – but the rest are Irish.

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