Interesting Irish Interprovincial Game Alert

Spicy – check! Niggle – getting there! Chips on shoulder – well, it’s Ulster, so check! Arrogant latte-sipping Wez graduates – well, it’s Leinster, so check! It must be what is fast becoming the testiest derby in Ireland, winner takes all, part quatre. Unless you work for RTE, you’ll be sure Munster-Leinster has become dull and tiresome, and Ulster-Leinster is becoming pretty compelling.

Two years ago, Ulster went into the HEC final feeling pretty good about themselves, but got Schmidt-ed by a ruthless and powerful Leinster team, perhaps at the peak of their powers. Last year, Ulster gave up home advantage as Ravers was still a building site, and were pipped just short in a cracking game, and two weeks ago, Leinster ruined Johann Muller’s going away party, but all sides got a little heated at times.

Ulster feel they owe Leinster by this stage – the Blue Meanies just won’t forfeit their “top province” (well, top team, as there is only one top province, right Gerry?) ranking, and Ulster are tired of being the ones nipping at the heels of them but going home licking their wounds. They are going to be mighty wound up this time, and one can sense the kind of focus and determination they flagged before going to Welford Road earlier in the season.  Just don’t get too wound up there chaps, or you’ll end up tip-tackling some poor fellow shoulder-first into the ground!  Hopefully the lessons have been learned and focus will be the keyword.  As Brian O’Driscoll was captured saying in the Reaching for Glory docco : ‘This game will be about controlled passion.  Do you possess it?’

As for Leinster, they look, to be frank, there for the taking. Against Embra last week, they were pretty uninspiring, and in the aforementioned Bambi-killing episode in Ravers, they could have lost to 14 men. Their back play has become increasingly amaemic as the season has progressed, and seeing Johnny Sexton guide his Racing Metro team into the Top14 semis won’t have improved moods in D4.

It’s a contest between good old-fashioned Northern flinty determination to knock Leinster off their fucking perch (to coin a phrase) and a limousine steadily running out of gas but putting along just quickly enough. While it’s hard to see a Brian O’Driscoll career end with a lackadaisical home defeat – his genius has dragged many worse teams over the finish line – this feels like a major banana skin for Leinster.  Lose, and Matt O’Connor gets the backlash.  O’Connor’s brand of rubbishy looking rugby has been unpopular since his arrival, but so long as the team keeps winning in the Pro12 and delivers the trophy, there’s only so much mud that can be flung at him.  But lose at home in the semi-finals and the natives will go from restless to irate.

If Ulster can name Besty and Ruan Pienaar in their team, and build on the momentum perversely achieved in defeat to Leinster and an improbable win over Munster, they look to have the focus and hunger to finally get the Leinster monkey off their backs. Today’s news that Glasgae will be forfeiting home advantage should they face Ulster in the final is an extra fillip – what better way to have another go at christening the new Ravers than with a trophy? And won’t somebody think of poor old Tom Court, whose suspension ends after the semi-final.  A win for Ulster, and he gets the chance for his last act in an Ulster shirt not to be a spear tackle.  After last season’s narrow miss, they’ll feel it’s what they deserve and probably feel they’re due a bit of good fortune – and, as at Welford Road, they might just be ready to scale that peak.

What do they have to do to win?  Not shoot themselves in the foot for starters.  Leinster haven’t offered a huge amount in attack this season and Ulster are a good defending team, so it’s hard to see Leinster racking up multiple scores.  Leinster’s lineout is misfiring and Ulster will surely plan to disrupt it.  Yes, the scrum is a concern, and Leinster dominated this element of the game in Ravenhill.  But they didn’t dominate it quite as much as expected.  The first scrum of the day was minced, but after that Ulster just about held up their end.  If they can survive the scrummaging they have the more cohesive looking attack, the better backline and – if Pienaar starts – the halfbacks to control the match.

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26 Comments

  1. Looks like the final will be in Glasgow after all lads. I saw an article in the IT yesterday but it was riddled with mistakes (coming up with imaginary places, saying the final was on August 31st etc) and was taken down a few hours later, and a few Scottish sites are saying Celtic Park will host the final if Glasgow win.

    If Ulster are to win, they need to follow Muller’s mantra of Fire in the Belly, Ice in the Head. PJ will need to play a lot better than he did at Ravenhill at times a couple of weeks ago and find his penalty touches and not screw up any restarts.

    News that Diack is back is a huge boost, as the back row has been missing a little bit of its balance, and a Diack/Henry/Wilson back row should have the grunt and nous to take on the Leinster lads (Henry vs SOB should be an interesting battle!)

    I’d also even lean towards saying that even if Pienaar is on the bench, Ulster still have the stronger starting halfbacks, assuming Reddan doesn’t come through his fitness test.

  2. Len

     /  May 15, 2014

    Would love to see Dricco and Leo sign off with the cup, but I don’t think we have it in us this season. We’ve been very poor with ball in hand of late and clearly MOCball doesn’t suit the Leinster back line. A small part of me kinda wants us to loose and MOC to be given the boot as I think a further season with him uncontrol would leave us in a very bad way. That said I’m not sure I can see him getting the boot even if we loose. Ulster to wrack up a commanding first half lead which Leinster will then reel in to win by one point at the death.

  3. I’ve a certain confident serenity ahead of this game that amounts to a new experience, but which depends very much on getting those key players back and fit, not just wearing the shirt and jogging around a Dublin field while guys in blue rack up the scores.

    Should be a doozy.

    Also, Matt O’Connor does seem to be making them steadily worse – training methods, losing their sharpness, which are now combining with his rather right-angled patterns? Well, at least he shouldn’t feel the need to dip into Dublin’s property market, don’t think he’ll be there more than another season.

  4. Ro

     /  May 15, 2014

    Leinster are looking like an English Premiership team. The kind of team who do just enough to finish top of the league but who will struggle in the one off games (english clubs in the HC kinda thing). In recent games we have had huge amounts of possession but dont seem to know what to do with it. Yeah we finished top of the pile but dont like the way we are playing and am worried about Saturday. Ulster were the team of the season for me until the wheels came off through cards and injuries. If they can regain some of the experience they should go well in the RDS. Anyone else think Wilson is a bit of a dirty git? didnt like his antics in Ravenhill last time. Very little news coming out of UCD so can we assume MOC is still kickin arse after the awful performance last week! I hope its enough to get us the win.

  5. Leinsterlion

     /  May 15, 2014

    MOCball wont get us over the line against the big boys in Europe, that is a given, but Ulster are not the finished article by any means so we could well grind their souls(and that of everyone watching) into the ground, with Healy and SOB running constantly down Jacksons throat playing reductive rugby. Leicster won X amount of Premiership titles on having the best scrum(check), big runners(SOB, Healy) and a dominant lineout(er, Toner is tall?), I dont see why we cant do it, it wont be pretty, but I have faith MOCball will see for Ulster, they just dont have enough about them to do it.

    • I don’t know LL, Jackson is probably the best defensive 10 in the provinces, so I doubt Healy/SOB put the fear of god in him, which is a trait evident throughout the rest of the team (having the second fewest tries conceded after Glasgow). Considering that Leinster’s only try in Ravenhill came from a miracle pass from BOD, I’m not sure MOCball would be enough. I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a *very* tight game though.

      • I agree wholeheartedly with Leinsterlion. Jackson’s defence was shown to be somewhat lacking against two weeks on the trot against Glasgow and Leinster. I think we can grind out a result and have the consistency to be able to do so. I can’t see us possibly playing any worse or with greater lack of inspiration than last week against Edinburgh and am hoping our backs – with Reddan and Madigan at 9 and 10 – will put in a performance we know they’re capable of. Sure the last time the Ulstermen visited D4 didn’t Reid and Macken put the mockers on the all-singing all-dancing Northern backline? Confident but wary….

  6. Andrew

     /  May 15, 2014

    Talking to a Man U fan at a prayer breakfast ( we were there for diffrent reasons) but we started talking about coaches and Man Us recent change. His take was its easy to change when the problem is so obvious so he was pleased the change was made. He feeling about Leinsters problem is when a team is stuttering along but getting a few results it masks the underlying problem. Then by the time the wheels come off you could be so far into the malaise it could take a generation of players to get it back.
    Sometimes I wake up sweating having had a dream, where me and my mates in thirty years time are talking like Ajax fans and discussing the days in the past when we were kings of Europe.

  7. D6W

     /  May 15, 2014

    As a Leinster supporter (but I take mine black), very worried about this one. This seems to be a stronger Ulster side than the one that lost the HEC 2012 final, and we are nowhere near as good as we were. Since the loss to Northampton, we have been on a downward trajectory.

    Apart from the uninspiring playing style, our wide defense is very frail. I hate myself for even thinking it, but it looks like The Great One gave his all for one last 6 Nations championship, and has been looking a bit human since, despite the offload against Ulster.

    Finally, if MOC really is trying to get the best out of our 10s by playing them off each other (which I doubt), form demands that he pick Madigan for this one, following Gopperths poor display against Embra.

    • With a bit of luck maybe the IRFU and/or Joe Schmidt will insist on Madigan being selected, in order to assist the decision-making with regards to the squad for the tour to Argentina.

      • Don Alfonso

         /  May 15, 2014

        As an Ulster fan, I sincerely hope so.

        Although, if form and performances count for anything, Keatley would be going to Argentina instead.

  8. Don Alfonso

     /  May 15, 2014

    I think this Ulster outfit is as mentally strong as any previous Ulster team, but we are missing players such as Ferris and, ironically, Paddy Wallace.

    Also starting to lose a bit of faith in Anscombe, truth be told

    • D6W

       /  May 16, 2014

      Trade you Anscombe for MOC any day!

    • Why are you starting to lose faith in Anscombe? Granted the form of the team this season hasn’t hit the highs of last, but I wouldn’t say he’s doing a terrible job.

      • SportingBench

         /  May 16, 2014

        Can’t blame Anscombe for the red cards. They weren’t the result of the team being told to do something silly just individual mistakes that occured somewhat out of the blue. Particularly Payne’s which costs Ulster so heavily.

      • D6W

         /  May 16, 2014

        Agree, but for one red, Ulster could be contesting 2 finals this month. Not sure what more Anscombe could have done this weekend.

        • Don Alfonso

           /  May 16, 2014

          Team selection is Exhibit A.

          Payne is simply best at 15 and our best 15, Cave is our best OC, Marshall our best IC and Andrew has been more effective at 15 than Gilroy.

          • Respectfully I’d disagree. While I think that Cave is probably the most hard-done-by player in Ireland currently (probably that face of his), and is probably Ulster’s best 13, there’s no depth behind him outside of Payne, and he’s shown to be just as good an operator at 12 this season, which could even give him a new lease of life.

            Andrew is in my mind a less effective Rob Kearney, in that he catches the ball and will try and run at the first defender and always worry me that he’s going to trip over himself. Gilroy is an international winger (which, granted, doesn’t always translate into a similar quality fullback) and has played in big games before, so he’s probably better suited than Andrew to this game.

          • Don Alfonso

             /  May 16, 2014

            With equal respect, Cave is not as good at 12 as Marshall, Payne is not as good at 13 as Cave and is light-years better than any other Ulster 15. Gilly is a fierce counter-attacker but not great with the boot. Now is not a moment to be trying out alternatives for depth. If we lose this, the season’s over.

          • Agree, but I don’t think the combinations are as bad as your making them out to be, and Marshall hasn’t really been in particularly great form recently (his boshing is getting a little predictable perhaps?)

  9. L.P.O.

     /  May 16, 2014

    It’ll be fun to be the baddies for once. Come on lads, drudge the ball up the middle and win us a penalty to crush the valiant nordies’ hearts into dust. Muhahahhahah. Look at them there trying to play rugby. The fools!!! When all the while, little do they know, we never had any intention of making this a rugby match at all!

    It’s all part of our dastardly plan to bore everyone to tears while we launch a nuclear missile from the beer garden of the Horse Show House to blow up the moon for some reason MUUuuuuuHHAHAHAHAAAaaaa.

  10. Bobby T

     /  May 16, 2014

    Team selection is pretty much advantage Ulster in every area bar front row, full back and bench.If it is still close with 20 mins to go Leinsters bench will win it.
    Some strange calls for Leinster in the pack especially – Moore is a poor scrummager and IMO pretty woeful around the pitch…still can’t understand how he has a Leinster contract let alone 5 Irish caps. He’s very young for a tight-head so I am hoping he proves me wrong but I definitely haven’t seen anything in him so far (granted I don’t watch every Leinster pro12 match but his appearances in the HC, for the wolfhounds, especially, and in the 6Ns were all of the poor variety if you ask me).Don’t want to pick on one player but I just cant get my head around him.

  11. Peat

     /  May 16, 2014

    Leinster look there for the taking but so do Ulster. Half the pack has just been dropped back in cold straight from the physio’s table. The backline experiment makes everything look disjointed. The front row has an element of cross your fingers.

    And then there’s the record in big games. Can you blame Anscombe for the reds? Take those out of the equation and twice in a row, Ulster have come out into a big game and committed a huge number of early penalties. There has been no Ice in the Head. The reds are just another example of that. Can Anscombe be totally exonerated for that? I don’t see how.

    For me, this semi-final is Cowboy’s last chance saloon. Ulster need to win to show that he has what it takes to drag them to trophies. I have a horrible feeling Ulster will be left stuck wishing Cardiff had taken him after all.

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