Ulster Struggles

So there ya go – the dream is over. With Ulster’s development in recent years, Ireland have had three names supping at the top table of European rugby – we felt that the provinces were in a good position to replicate last season (and 2012)’s success and have three in the last eight. But, for the first time since 2010, Ulster won’t be there. We haven’t bothered crunching the stats – we’ll leave that to real numbers gurus like Andy McGeady – but we suspect there haven’t been many teams who have made the knockouts after losing their opening two games. After nicking a late bonus point in Welford Road, Ulster couldn’t even repeat that trick at home to Toulon and are now marooned with a single point. Bummer.

Now, losing to Toulon is far from disgraceful – they are European and French champions and produced the first powerhouse performance of the tournament on Saturday, whacking and bagging Ulster by half-time. Losing to this Leicester vintage isn’t so great though, and four wins with a couple of bonus points from here looks an extremely tall order, especially since one of those games is in Toulon.

In a sense, there have been some chickens coming home to roost for Ulster – organisational upheavel this summer, a lack of depth in the pack being exposed by injuries, and curious selection.

When Humph announced he was leaving for Glaws, Ulster rugger went into a state of shock, and it has taken four months for the endgame to play out. First of all, Cowboy was given the heave-ho with Les “Kissy” Kiss coming in on an interim job-share basis to bring his choke tackling expertise, hipster specs and sunny, thoughtful demeanour to Ravers – this was initally announced as a season-long measure. But then the announcement came that Kissy was going back to Carton House full-time and Ulster would shortly name a full-time coach. To no-ones surprise, a few weeks later, that was Neil Doak – with Kissy returning after RWC15 as Nucifor-stamped DoR. All of which ends well for Ulster, but it does mean that the Ulster players have had three head coaches for the 2014/15 season in 3 months – hardly the best preparation for European rugby.

And, although Doak has been around Ravers since, like, forever and has presumably – like the perennial bridesmaid – been preparing to be head coach for half that time, he only got the keys three weeks ago. Now, there can be no doubt he had input into team selection and tactics, so he wasn’t completely green, but having your second and third games as head coach against Leicester and Toulon is far from ideal. From Ulster’s perspective, the succession hasn’t been smooth – the best-managed corporates have a succession plan for everybody that they can put in place when required – Ulster might have got the outcome they wanted, but it took them a while to get there, and preparation undoubedly suffered. Perhaps there was a reason Doak couldn’t have taken over when Cowboy was slung out, with Kiss being lined up as 2015 DoR in time, but we can’t think of a persuasive one. Either way, Ulster have been in a state of organisational flux since June.

Secondly, the team was decimated by injury – or was it? The reality is that they are missing both starting locks  – Dan Tuohy, NWJMB – Ruan Pienaar and Andy Trimble. Pienaar and Trimble are virtually irreplacable but its the pack which has been hardest hit. Note: Alan O’Connor is also suspended, but if you are depending on an Academy player with two starts to rescue you against Toulon, you are in trouble. The reality of the situation is that Ulster’s depth in the pack was a concern 12 month ago and its got markedly worse since:

  • OUT: Tom Court (Prop, 32 caps for Ireland), John Afoa (Prop, 36 caps for BNZ, RWC11 winner), Johann Muller (Lock, 24 caps for SA, RWC07 winner), Fez (Flanker, 35 caps for Ireland, 2009 Lion) plus Niall Annett (Hooker), Adam Macklin (Prop), Paddy McAlister (Prop), Sean Doyle (Flanker)
  • IN: Wiehann Herbst (Prop), Ruadhri Murphy (Prop), Dave Ryan (Prop), Franco van der Merwe (Lock, 1 cap for SA), Charlie Butterworth (Flanker), Sean Reidy (Flanker)

Essentially, Ulster have lost their captain, 2 RWC winners, Ireland’s only player of the professional era aside from POC and BOD to be challenging for a World XV and 127 international caps and replaced them with a couple of wild card props and a once-capped Springbok journeyman. Poor planning, and ordinary recruitment. That’s going to hurt when you come up against a side who can lose Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe after five minutes and replace him with a MOTM contender from last year’s final. Ulster were so stretched, they had to rely on Clive Ross and Nick Williams as crack game-changers from the bench.

That’s a big enough handicap as is, but to find yourself struggling to identify your starting centres is pretty careless. Jared Payne has been the chosen one at outside centre for Ulster (and maybe for Ireland) but it’s fair to say he hasn’t got going there – when Ulster have brought Dazzler Cave into the team and moved Payne back to full-back, they’ve looked immeasurably more dangerous. Against the Tigers, Ulster went for brawn inside in the shape of Stuart McCloskey, but began to create opportunities only when he was replaced with the rapier that is Stu Olding. The against Toulon, it was Olding who started, but even before he got kicked in the head in a scene reminiscent of the Thing That Never Happened, he was being run ragged by Maxime Mermoz (aside: is this a first for anyone else to see Mermoz actually playing well? He has always seemed disappointing any time we have seen him) and Mathieu Boshtereaud.

Which isn’t to say Toulon steamrollered over Ulster – it was the technical brilliance of their pack and centres that won them this game – subtlety was the name of the game in the key moments. That awful feeling of being outclassed came a week after a litany of errors handed a free win to a Leicester Tigers team that subsequently gave the Scarlets (the Scarlets!) an easy win. Ulster have hid it pretty well in the Pro12 to date, but a pair of limp defeats in the rarefied air of the HEC/ERCC has shown them up for being a bit of a mess right now. If Doak didn’t know he had a big job on his hands, he does now.

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50 Comments

  1. Yossarian

     /  October 28, 2014

    To be successful in the pro12 does not require the same forward power that you need in Europe. (Leinster won last year by having the best pack.) ulster have been very good because they have great depth in the back line and the forward weakness was not exploited.
    Toulon strangled the life out of ulster(like they did leinster last year) when you look at Toulons sub second row pairing of Botha and Williams it really put the relative depths in stark contrast. Cave not starting wasn’t the issue(let’s not have the Schmidt conspiracy theories on Payne at 13)

    • No conpiracy theories here, it just hasn’t been the best selection.

      You’re right that Toulon barely gave Ulster a foothold in the game, so it probably wouldn’t have a made a difference to the outcome, but you can still give yourself a better chance of winning by having your best team on the pitch.

    • When you look at the team Toulon named, you knew Ulster had to build up a lead, and fast, otherwise they’d just strongarm us off the pitch. I said last week Giteau was also key to them and if he could be gameplanned out of the game we’d win. Shows what I know I guess!

    • Peat

       /  October 29, 2014

      By conspiracy theories, you mean what a lot of guys who signal signings and team changes early on the UAFC are saying flat out is the case?

      • And the Irish coach flatly denies. It has never come from an official Ulster course.

  2. Van Der Merwe is a journeyman??? :O the Ulster fans won’t like to hear that.

    In fairness I agree completely, Ulster have overachieved in the past few seasons considering their almost non existent squad depth. It has only taken 3-4 injuries (albeit a couple in the same position, which always seems to happen to teams somehow) to dump them from potential contenders to also rans.

    Also for whatever reason (hopefully someone can enlighten me) Ulster cannot seem to hang onto flankers – Faloon to Connacht, Dougal never featured for the senior squad afaik, Sean Doyle to Aus – Ulster could have really used one or all of those players in the squad in the past two years.

    • The main problem I feel is that it feels (from a fan perspective at least) that every time we try to build depth, and it isn’t working after a season, we just decide to drop anyone who could possibly be a prospect in the future without giving them a chance to develop. Our back-row depth is paper-thin right now, and Clive Ross has had *just about* 80 minutes of first team action, while Reidy and Butterworth haven’t gotten near the team yet. It was the same with McKinney (and a reason why having iHumph back will probably hurt us in the long term), he wasn’t working for a season so he decided to up sticks, beating Munster at Thomond on the way out, and came back last weekend to beat the Ravens for Rotherham.

  3. Andrew097

     /  October 28, 2014

    Ulster are like Leinster of several years ago, some classy backs but a few cracks in the forwards. Fine for many games but when your playing the business end teams you get found out. Cullen came back to Leinster and added a little steel that made them winners, Ulster has lost that and need to find it again.

  4. ruckinhell

     /  October 28, 2014

    Leaving aside the issue of Payne at 13 (who looked so much more comfortable when switched to 15), Doak got his 12s mixed up for the two Not the Heineken Cup Brought to you by Heineken games. McCloskey would have been an invaluable bit of ballast against Toulon and offered them some much needed front foot ball which was severely lacking. On the other hand, had he started in England Olding would have brought the guile needed to cut open a very poor and limited Leicester side (the result against the Scarlets just shows how poor that result in Leicester was for Ulster). Now Olding wasn’t a disaster against Toulon and showed some nice footwork and hands in attack but he was consistently offering up 2 or 3 meters per carry when in defence and McCloskey might have had a better go of it.

    Toulon had this game firmly by the neck and slowly squeezed it dead. They didn’t do anything too flashy but their breakdown work and setpiece dominance killed off Ulster. Ulster actually turned over a considerable amount of ball (Best and Henry were excellent at the breakdown) but didn’t have the set piece or penetration to capitalise.

    A scary thought is that Toulon lost their lynchpin ten early in the game and it didn’t bother them a jot. Serious squad but I do think there are teams out there equipped to beat them with the right game plan.

    • Our breakdown was pretty woeful I thought, so little ruck protection that any time we started building phases or getting good ball we either coughed up a turnover or got isolated and shipped a penalty.

      • The technical expertise of the Toulon forwards was incredible – they are simply brilliant players. When you go up against them with not-as-good players, you’ll be found out eventually.

        • Billy

           /  October 28, 2014

          Not just singling out Armitage as they were all very good but it is so hard to play against an incredibly dynamic and agile, 5″8, 17st openside…

    • Agree with most of that.

  5. After the initial disappointment (including expletives about Wayne Barnes not going to the TMO for Olding’s head getting punted, was anything said about it on TV?), this might be the best thing to happen to Ulster.

    I’ve been reading BOD’s autobiography this week and he just covered the 2011/12 season, and he described watching Ulster do their laps of honour in Thomond and Dublin and acting like “they were just happy to be there” in Twickers. And y’know what? He’s right.

    Ulster are probably still in the “bridesmaids” phase that Leinster occupied to Munster during their HEC dominance, and while we can be nigh-impossible to stop when we’re firing, there doesn’t seem to be that spark of inspiration anymore (a lot of people have bemoaned that we didn’t have Pienaar available against Toulon, I struggle to think what he would have come up with against that performance).

    The problem I think stems from the fact that we don’t really have a forward who you could say with authority “give him the ball and he’ll bust the gainline”. Leinster are probably in worse shape than we are in terms of sheer numbers of injuries, but their squad is so much bigger that all it’s taken them to remain 2/2 in the absence of Healy and O’Brien is for Jamie Heaslip to start carrying more like his Grand Slam or 2013 Challenge Cup vintage (obviously Cronin and Ruddock have helped, but Heaslip has arguably had the biggest “step up” in terms of carrying before/during October). Ulster simply don’t have that other than Nick for Pro12 teams that aren’t used to his heft, and Henderson.

    As has been said many a time, Ulster have an embarrassment of riches in the backs. Marshall, while mercurial can still show up, Pienaar is world class. Jackson and Humphreys complement each other nicely and the former would probably be in Joe’s reckoning for November if he hadn’t been injured. Olding is the Ulster-Hipster’s-Ian-Madigan. Bamm-Bamm, McCloskey and Cave are all fine centres. Payne and Ludik are both excellent full-backs (on a side note, it definitely seems like Payne has been doing a “Ludik-lite” impression at 13 more often than not this season), and we have three wingers who if all fit and in current form would give Joe a selection headache, nevermind Doak.

    The problem with that embarrassment of riches is that they don’t have the platform to play off of, especially when a team as *big* as Toulon shows up (I remember watching Olding line up for two tackles in a row and just be a speedbump for both within 10 seconds), and as a result we don’t have any answers. (Although putting your heads up and seeing Bowe *screaming* for a cross-field kick on a few occassions would certainly help).

    As for the HEC, I think Ulster will add more credit to neutrals’ “my plucky second favourite team” banks by trying their damnedest to qualify. I think it’s worth a shot, but I also think that if we haven’t come away with two bonus points against the Scarlets we may as well throw everything at the Pro12 and win some god damned silverware.

  6. Bozo

     /  October 28, 2014

    Unfortunately with the exception of Henderson, Ulster have not developed a decent home grown forward in over 5 years. That is unacceptable.

    We have developed plenty of backs, but without Pienaar – Jackson is finding things tough, and Payne is not working at 13 all of which is having a knock on effect to the rest of the backs

    • That’s an interesting point. Ludik looks a handy player but I wonder if a NIQ spot was wasted on him? Not that this is a solution to not producing good forwards, but it might offer a solution to the thin depth in the pack this year. We could probably do with an Irish backrower from somewhere – Leinster seem to have plenty spare – and one more quality second row, which might mean/have meant going abroad. I also think, if you’re going to have only four NIQ players, that Nick Williams probably shouldn’t be one of them.

      • I think the whole NIQ thing gets scuppered slightly (unless you’re a tighthead or other exceptional circumstances) due to the whole “if one of the -ster provinces has an NIE/Q at position X, the others can’t have one there”. I don’t remember there being a limit of 4 per province, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me!

        • Stephen

           /  October 28, 2014

          5 NIQs allowed, one of whom (Herbst) must be a “project.”

          We signed Ludik as back cover for the international windows; so far, he has been covering for the JP13 vanity project.

          • Lop12

             /  October 28, 2014

            Ludik actually looks like one of your better (albeit solid rather than flashy) performers over the course of those games. Massive boot on him.

        • Four NIQs per province and one project player are seemingly the rules. The fifteen players allowed across the three -sters are, in theory, not meant to overlap in positional terms, but the IRFU appear willing to make exceptions on that front. I saw some whinging when Munster signed Tyler Bleyendaal and Andrew Smith as a 12 and 13 respectively that it meant Leinster wouldn’t be able to sign a centre, but they got the go-ahead to sign Ben Te’o in any case. Similarly, Ulster’s signings of John Afoa and Wiehann Herbst were sanctioned even though BJ Botha is at Munster. (Whether he’ll be replaced with an NIQ tighthead is the next question.) So there is some flexibility, but the criteria are entirely opaque.

          Ludik appears to have been signed to enable Payne to play more at 13, and the merits of that have been debated to exhaustion already. If he hadn’t been signed, I think they could have signed an openside (Stander taking up the 6 spot and Williams the 8 spot in the notional NIQ XV from the three -sters). Ulster will presumably have to not renew Nick Williams’ contract if they want another NIQ in the back-row, given the presence of four NIQs and a project at the moment (Van Der Merwe, Williams, Pienaar, and Ludik, with Herbst the designated project player).

          • The IRFU appear to be enforcing the numbers of NIEs in each province, but the restriction on positions was kicked into the long grass so time ago. The policy was announced in a IRFU shortly after Ireland had been unceremoniously dumped out of RWC 11 by Wales and the IRFU decided to blame all those johnny foreigners playing in Ireland for their embarrassment. The policy clearly hadn’t been discussed and thought through so no surprise it got quietly shelved.

          • Opaque is the word, thoughtless, we’ve blogged the topic once or twice, and effectively they appear happy to ride over most of the rules in the name of multiple ‘exceptions’. The one-contract-and-out rule is the one which has most obviously been vanquished, and if the 15 NIEs are indeed in separate positions I would say it is by chance as much as design.

  7. I don’t know if it time to press the panic button just yet. Munster and Leinster both also failed to qualify for the QFs once during the 4 consecutive years Ulster have qualified.

    The In/Out list also doesn’t tell the full story. Ferris, Macklin and McAlister hardly played last season because of injury. John Afoa’s multiple leaves of absence meant he didn’t have the impact he did on his first season. Muller’s spirit was willing but his body was running on empty.

    Having said that, Ulster doesn’t have great strength in depth and the loss of Touhy and NWJMB was really felt with the reduction of heft and ball carrying on the field and bench.

    Ulster did shoot themselves in the foot in both pool games giving away intercept tries at crucial times, both from players prone to brain farts. Whether similar brain-fartedness would have happened with more steadying influences on the pitch, like Pienaar or a beefed up pack, we’ll never know.

    I think it is the backline where the coaching ticket needs accept some blame with Payne never looking anything but ordinary at 13.

    • That actually makes the story worse – they had 12 months plus to prepare for retirements/departures and couldn’t do it.

      It will be interesting to see how Payne plays with Ireland – if he runs out at 13 and looks threatening, there should be some hard questions asked at Ravers

      • Ulster would have been stuffed last year if they had lost both Touhy and NWJMB for an extended period as well. I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect Ulster to have a Bakkies Botha instead of a Lewis Stevenson. The need to have another top class back row instead of Ferris could have been seen as likely, but maybe it needed to wait until it was 100% with his decision to retire, and by then it was too late for this season.

      • Mike

         /  October 28, 2014

        Id say at this point if Payne does play for Ireland, its most likely to be at 15…!

  8. Billy

     /  October 28, 2014

    Did anyone else get the feeling that Toulon never really got going either?

    Mike Brewer used to hammer home the idea that the team with the best back row on the day wins the match and for all his faults, I find this 99% true. For all the talk of tight five struggling (which was very true) I think without Ferris, the Ulster back row lacks oomph. Diack is too light to be a truly effective 6. For all his athleticism, he lacks power in contact, which is criminal for a 6 in my eyes. Henry looked like what he is, a utility back row press-ganged into the 7 shirt. This is unfair as he is a fantastically honest player and his exceptional work rate compensates for a lack of natural ability at the breakdown but my word, he was taken to the cleaners by Armitage. Wilson is a good pro but not exceptional and entering the twilight of his career, certainly not likely to strike fear in the hearts of the opposition. Williams is a bit more of a poor man’s Billy Vunipola and totally ineffective against top-tier teams. After that, a couple of ex-AIL players…

    • This seems to me to be the biggest issue too. (I’d also mention David Pollock, another brilliant back-row talent lost to chronic injury.) The back-row problems could be compensated for by a couple of game-breakers in the front five, but the only high-quality ball-carrying option available there is the injured Henderson. It’s a very one-paced pack at the moment, filled with players with excellent work rate but limited game changing ability, and that will be enough ford a top-four league finish, but I’m not sure it will be enough to allow Ulster to challenge for silverware in high-intensity games.

      In the medium-term, it looks like they’ll need a top-quality NIQ signing to turn things around; I’ve seen Duane Vermuelen’s name thrown around, which would fit the bill, to put it mildly.

      • There is no question that Ulster lacked serious ball-carrying wallop. If you look at what Stander and Heaslip have been doing for Munster and Leinster, Ulster have had nobody able to do the same. Diack is effectively Peter O’Mahony-lite and Roger Wilson is decent but not exceptional. Nick Williams has been their main ball-carrier but he appears woefully out of form. Afoa’s carrying is missed, and obviously Henderson too.

  9. SportingBench

     /  October 28, 2014

    Ulster were playing without 3 of their top 4 locks. I think it is fair to say they were going to be slightly under powered in the pack, most teams would be. It is also a big loss to have Piennar out particularly as Jackson is way off colour at the moment and not able to lift the load on decision making.
    As much as it hurts and it is frustrating, pre-season, everyone acknowledged that this was a transitional season so as long as season ends with Ulster better than they are currently which means challenging for the Pro12, then there is progress and the season is a success. That was the goal at the start of the season.
    The irration is that they left a very winnable game out there in Welford Road and that is costing them a shot at the Quarters.

  10. Lop12

     /  October 28, 2014

    Very very disappointing from Ulster (from a Munster man). Is it fair to say that all five tries conceded to date were avoidable?

    Nick Williams coming on as an auxillary scrum half must be one of the oddest things iv seen in quite a while. His intercept was absolutely unforgivable.

    Id be disapointed with some of the senior players also. Rory Best seems immune from criticism amongst Ulster fans, and that is understandable I guess. He played well around the park on Sat but at one point in first half, in a decent attacking position he tried to throw to the tail, in a very strong breeze, and unsurprisingly threw it crooked. That is soul destroying stuff when you are finding it so hard to get your hands on the ball; assuming he also has a major say in the lineout strategy it is also foolhardy in the extreme. Darts were much improved from the week before but unconvincing. Jackson missed pen sucked a lot of energy from the Ulster team as well, kick that and you are bang in the game, instead 3 mins & one intercept later its game over ball burst.

    V disappointed for Ulster and for Ireland as vital that Ulster provide as much opportunity as possible for the reams of talented backs they have produced. Hard, night impossible, to see an exit route from that group now.

    • Yes, there is a long list of self-inflicted damage over the 2 games: 2 intercepts, Best’s throwing, Gilroy getting yellow carded, Jackson’s conversion charged down, Fat Nick’s error count…

    • Billy

       /  October 28, 2014

      There is a strange dichotomy among rugby fans and writers whereby a successful lineout are more often accredited to the lineout jumpers and an unsuccessful one is apportioned to the thrower. It really is a unit skill in my experience. Too often a poor/badly-timed lift/jump can make a good throw look bad. I don’t mean to completely absolve Best of blame, as he is prone to the yips but I’m guessing the loss of Muller, who apparently owned the lineout in Ulster, is being felt.

      • Lop12

         /  October 28, 2014

        I dont doubt that point at all Billy; but Best throws far more crooked/overthorws than ones that plain miss his man if you know what I mean. He also, IMVHO, struggles to get back on track after a few poor ones. Testament to his unbelievable all round game that he is still international standard despite this.

        Casey for us is a pure greenhorn, but his throwing has been exceptional. I would put Munsters two losses down to a unit fail (as you described above) rather than poor darts on his behalf.
        No coincedence, I feel, that he is working with Flannery who was one of the best. In fact Casey has said recently that he was getting help from Flannery even when JF was at Arsenal. In the interest of the national side would not be opposed to the idea of JF providing a throwing “clinic” for all IQ hookers. And if not JF, then someone else approriately qualified! Cronin also having a dose of the yips unfortunately.

        • Great idea!! Maybe while he’s at it Fla could take the time and teach Nugget how to ****in hook, as it’s driving me out of my mind!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          • Lop12

             /  October 28, 2014

            Plenty hookers out there dont have that basic skill either unfortunately!!

  11. Stevo

     /  October 28, 2014

    To be honest I think if all things had gone well for Ulster over the summer and the start of the season they still would have lost that game. We need to acknowledge that this Toulon team are now head and shoulders above the rest of Europe in the way that Leinster were in 2012. They have completely put their millionaire circus days behind them and are as close to a perfect team as we have in the European club game at the moment.

    • Hard to argue with that – even further ahead that any club we’ve seen I’d wager. The only way I can see them not winning it all is if they wind up away to another French team in the semi-final and it descends into a quasi-Top14 game.

      It was more the manner of the defeat – after 25 minutes you could put your feet up and admire Toulon. The result was a foregone conclusion

      • Lop12

         /  October 28, 2014

        They are very good. But Ulster were so poor the last day I think this is a bit of an overreaction. Munster caused them plenty trouble away last season and Im sure would fancy a crack off them in Thomond.

        In fact any of Saracens, Northampton, Munster, Leinster would have a good shot off them on home turf I reckon.

    • I think they’re probably even further ahead of the chasing pack than Leinster were in 2012, when Clermont were probably at their peak and there was almost nothing between the sides. Which is a depressing thing to type.

    • I can see why you might say that but although they are clearly the best side in Europe I don’t think the gap is as wide as Ulster made it look. They have lost this season, including at home to an unfancied Stade team. It was only a week previous that Toulouse pretty much schooled them in the top 14.

      This was a fairly similar performance to that which Ulster produced at Leicster and it was well short of what Ulster are capable of. The Leicster game was must win, I think Ulster knew that at the time. The fact that Scarlets fairly comfortably beat the same injury ravaged Leicster side says a lot.

      19 points might yet be enough, Ulster need to focus on two 5 point hauls versus Scarlets, even if it is just to keep the dream alive and the fans interested. Not been in contention for the H Cup by Christmas is pasttime we should leave to those across the water.

  12. Re Mermoz playing well? He was the one, who blocked down a clearance kick and scored a try off it, only seconds after Scarlets had gone into the lead in the Round 1 match and Toulon were starting to wobble a little bit. But for that little bit of successful opportunism on his part, who knows how the match might have finished…

  13. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  October 28, 2014

    The summary of Ulster pack talent out vs talent in as outlined above is startling when summarised in this way. The explanation, ‘poor planning & ordinary recruitment’ sounds fixable – but unfortunately the issue may be more intractable – i.e. filthy lucre. With D4 tightening the purse strings, the new ERCC format diverting more cash to the ‘big two’ & Rory trying to resolve his own finances… I’d be a little concerned that this is not going to be so easily rectified and Saturday afternoon might represent a depressing glimpse into the future (and not just for Ulster).

    • Other than Toulon, the rest of the ERCC contenders (including the Irish provinces) look decidedly ordinary.

      • Toulon have certainly fired the first shot haven’t they. Interesting to see if anyone can get near that level

    • I wouldn’t say the out column really tells the whole story. Afoa of the last 18 months is not the player he was for the first 18 months, and Herbst has been the best of the replacements. Muller was a huge player and his leadershp is sorely missed, but he was declining as a player too, and VDM is a Springbok and has started well. Ferris and McAllister have barely played in two years so they aren’t exactly effective losses, and even Court was being overtaken last season.

  14. clancystephen

     /  October 29, 2014

    There doesn’t appear to be any mention of the Masoe falling reverse off load out of a 3 man tackle which Habana ran onto blind to score the ‘killer’ try before half time …. anyone? …….anyone??. Shows in 3 seconds exactly how class an outfit they are.
    I remember Munster being similarly heralded in ’09 – and we all know how that ne worked out.

    • Fergal

       /  October 29, 2014

      Nobody wins anything in October…but you can lose it, as Ulster are discovering.
      The semi-final draw is still (grossly unfairly) of paramount importance.

  15. clancystephen

     /  October 29, 2014

    Could easily be a bolter like Glasgow that gets under rated by Toulon that turns them over at home, or Toulon may not fancy the sunny climes of Glesga in Aril.

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