Ulster’s Resurgence

Leinster’s season is over after losing comprehensively to Ulster on Friday night in Ravers. It was an opportunity to back up their performance in Toulon – if indeed it you believed that performance to be as good as some claimed it was – and the opportunity was missed. Sure, Leinster were always going to struggle in the last 20 minutes after a tight turnaround and extra time last week, but they only played for 10, after which Ulster owned the ball and controlled the game with ease.

Worst of all for Leinster, it is another defeat in a sobering run where they have won two out of ten matches. They have lost the winning feeling. Last season and earlier in this, for all the dour, error-strewn rugby on display, they at least had the nous for how to win matches. They came out the right side of the scoreboard in any number of tight games; the trend has reversed, and they now find themselves under pressure to hold on to fifth place, and could yet find themselves in a playoff to ensure they are in the Champions Cup next year. With respect to Embra and the Scarlets, it would amount to an embarrassment, and surely the last nail in the coffin for the O’Connor regime.

As for the good ship Ulster, it sails on. They hardly fired a shot in Europe this year, but that would all be forgotten if they won the Pro12. At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, it is remarkable what a difference having three of their best forwards back playing can make. Remarkable insight, I’m sure you’ll agree, but Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry and Iain Henderson are such a step up in quality from Lewis Stevenson, Clive Ross and Mike McComish that the side cannot help but be transformed.

Another key to their form is the resurgence of Paddy Jackson, who was outstanding on Friday night. With Ian Madigan’s confidence bound to be at a low, Jackson surely comes back into the reckoning for not just the World Cup squad, but the test 23 on this form. While Jimmy Gopperth made a couple of terrific breaks which look amazing, they are ultimately no substitute for an ability to consistently get the backline moving on to the ball in a threatening manner; something Gopps has struggled with all season, but which Jackson accomplishes with natural grace. Subtly timed passes at the right height and pace for the receivers may not look as flash as running 30m and breaking tackles, but over the course of 80 minutes they add up to a lot more. It’s notable just how much Ulster get Bowe and Gilroy into the game, and the result is that Gilroy – another who could come back into the international picture on form – is the league’s leading tryscorer. He’s got his mojo back.

Whether they have the depth, or the quality at No.8, to mount a serious challenge in Europe next year is open to question, but for now that doesn’t really matter. It’s all about winning the Pro12. For all the progress over the last few years, they’ve yet to win anything, frequently losing their composure once the competition switches to a knockout format. Last year they struggled to convert pressure into points when in the red zone. This year they have looked more efficient, with the backline a potent threat.

At this point, they look pretty unlikely to lose to anyone at Ravers, and with a guaranteerd home final, it would seem that winning the big (ish) one requires one big away win out of maximum two attempts; they must either win in Scotstoun to ensure they force Munster or the Hairsprays to travel north, or failing that, go to Thomond Park to beat Munster. Neither is in any way easy, but Ulster are one of the few teams for whom a trip to Thomond Park brings little fear, and they have had some notable results there in recent years. They are the team in the tournament with all the momentum, and the final being in Ravenhill should only add to their motivation. And they have Iain Henderson.  They can’t lose, right?

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56 Comments

  1. Stephen

     /  April 27, 2015

    Christ, I would love a trip to Thomond.

    If Ulster were to beat Munster at Thomond, we would probably be the best province in Ireland, wouldn’t we? . . .

  2. andrew097

     /  April 27, 2015

    Leinster are dropping off a cliff performance, organisation and playing wise. The poor fundamentals witnessed all season are really coming home to roost.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  April 27, 2015

      No, no no, dont you know you need a squad of 23 New Zealand internationals to have a team able to run straight and pass the ball flat? MOC has covered this, you cannot expect a professional rugby player who trains twice a day, who is not a prime Dan Carter to receive the ball flat and then ship it on the gainline. You also cannot expect a professional rugby player, whose job it is to train and play rugby twice a day, to offload or run support lines to a player expecting the offload, only Sonny Bill Williams and Jerome Kaino can do this you see. As for defending in an organised manner, you cannot expect a player(who trains twice a day, five days a week, incidentally) to be able to partake in and execute a defensive structure unless they have at least ten New Zealand caps. Mortals like you cannot understand how hard it is to organise an aimless kick to nothing, never mind organising a chase, you would need a team with an average of at least 50 New Zealand caps apiece to do something like this. Dont you know how hard it is to coach rugby basics, thats why they say New Zealand are the best, because they do the basics, no way we can achieve that with our current training twice a day and not being multi capped New Zealanders. What we need to achieve your outrageous demand of “good basics” are least ten New Zealand caps per position, that should be good enough for the pro 12 play offs.

      • osheaf01

         /  April 27, 2015

        You’re not upset at all, are you, LL?

        MOC Must Stay petition starts now on munsterfans.com

      • SportingBench

         /  April 27, 2015

        They’re probably shattered with the twice a day 5 days a week training to be up to much at the weekend to be fair

        • Leinsterlion

           /  April 27, 2015

          Its a catch-22, training to hard to try catch up on the basics, which leaves you shattered for the weekend, which means you cant do the basics which makes you train harder during the week to learn the basics, which…… How do New Zealand do it, Is it the time difference which gives them an extra 24hrs to focus on the basics?

          • SportingBench

             /  April 27, 2015

            TBH, I’m only teasing. I actually agree that there is no excuse for professional players not being able to perform basic skills and think a lot of Leinster’s issues are beginning to revolve around motivation. MOC is either not holding them to high enough standards or they are just not listening.
            I’m sure the timezone excuse is next on MOCs list. He seems to have got through all the others on his very long list.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 27, 2015

            LOL, I know. I think you are on the money as regards motivation, the way we folded(and have done all season, eg;Dragons) like a cheap suit points to a mental issue in addition to the obvious decline in basic(lol) skills.

  3. Leinsterlion

     /  April 27, 2015

    Cant disagree with any of that, whilubsequenst Ulster looked like breaking due to Leinsters initial structured ten minutes, with clever kicking and running putting us ten points up(Ben Teo, some unit), a shanked aimless Jimmy Gopperth special invited them into the match and we promptly reverted to type and meandered about for the st 70, never troubling Ulster. It was entirely unsurprising to see us fold and revert to a rabble(as you point out, Gopperth breaks that end up in nothing, how many times have we seen it?), Ulster deserved the win, accurate and aggressive and brave with ball in hand(LOL at people saying the weather results in shite rugby, it didnt hamper Ulster). Ulster looked tidy, but as you say, they need an eight, Wilson is woefully underpowered, and isnt shy of slipping tackles, Xavier Rush he is not.

    Gilroy looked like the only international class winger on display, quick feet, aggressive, but most importantly, scores tries. Fitz and Bowe tried hard, but they looked undercooked and fatigued in comparison to a motoring Gilroy.

    Its painful to see Jackson(who I think is ordinary) sitting in an armchair(his fade and inside ball for Gilroys try) pinging passes about, and to compare that to the regression that has happened to Madigan. For all the matches lost, and shite performances during the MOCalypse, Madigans total deconstruction as a rugby player from the second best ten in Ireland to a joke of a 2nd five 8th(Aaron Mauger can sleep at night, his status as 2nd five eight template/stereotype is safe) in the space of two years is shocking. The only way Mads makes the WC squad is out of pity(or perceived versatility), his confidence is shot and he hasnt played ten in eons. If he doesnt(and I dont expect MOC to pick him, being the tactical genius that he is) play at ten for the rest of our meaningless season, you would have to say, his treatment by Leinsters coaching “brains” trust has been bordering on vindictive. Jackson was given time and patience, Madigan was discarded on the scrap heap and mocked by all and sundry(witness the numerous journos throwing snide comments about his “game managment”, whilst he plays 12..), I didnt realise Irish rugby had such depth that we could afford to throw away a player like Madigan, yet here we stand….

    On a more positive note, Hendo is the second coming of Ferris, whilst he doesnt have Ferris’s all round brutality(think he drifts in and out of games), he really looks to have stepped it up a notch and with an injury free pre/season should own Irelands blindside in the absence of a genuine 7 to move SOB there(incidentally look at Australias depth at 7 for the WC, Lancaster will call in Armitage, groundhog is en vogue, dont listen to the deniers). It would be a travesty(and should be resisted) to move him into the row, our back row has been crying out for his blend of physical carries and hits, I’ll admit to nursing a semi watching him on fri, he will be a world class 6, so much raw power there(and he can run lines).

    • @CompleteBore

       /  April 27, 2015

      As an Ulster fan it was slightly odd watching the match in person on Friday and seeing how quickly Leinster ran out of ideas. It was far earlier than they ran out of legs. Ulster are a long way from perfect and can be got at as the opening 10 minutes showed, but after that it was all slow ruck ball and straight lines.

      On Madigan, what I can’t wrap my head around is what happens next season. I understand Sexton is back and Gopperth is going, so surely that leaves Madigan as back-up 10 or have I missed the signing of another journeyman 10? How is that going to work for all the games Sexton misses from international duty and injury? Is Madigan going to be trusted with the shirt? Is he going to trust himself?

      Hendo is a sight to behold, a reason to go to the games on his own. Its been said here before but once he gets into the Ireland team I can’t see him being shifted for a long time.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  April 27, 2015

        It was painful, In the first ten mins I honestly believed we had turned a corner for the first time this season, we were rumbling, I expected you to roll over and we would just impose our bigger pack with Teo, Heaslip and SOB getting us front foot ball all day, one shanked kick and we bottled it. Fair play to Ulster, they saw we were mentally done and just went straight to the jugular, that sequence of play at the end where we impotently crashed against the line showed the difference in spine between the teams. Ulster wanted it more and were the better team.

        I assumed Academy ten(s) in competition +Nacewa as wise old head from 15 to step in if needed, I’m sure MOC is clamouring to sign a short term NIQ ten though. I’d say there is fair chance Mads misses out on the WC if selection is based on form, so he could be there, although if MOC is en-situ, we will probably still be in the market for a short term solution at ten irrespective of Mads availability.

    • osheaf01

       /  April 27, 2015

      “I didnt realise Irish rugby had such depth that we could afford to throw away a player like Madigan, yet here we stand….”

      We’ll take Madigan down here in Munster if you don’t want him. Not quite up to JJ’s level, but ought to be a significant upgrade on Keatley. However, given Foley thinks Keatley is actually better than JJ…

    • Jackson is ordinary? In comparison to what other Ten in the provinces? Every time I see him he appears to be adding new skills to his game?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  April 27, 2015

        Well I think Mads on top form(will we ever see it again in a Leinster jersey?), same with Sexton can tear teams apart, anytime you cut the Pienaar umbilical from Jackson he drops off a good bit. I’d class him as the same type of player as Keatley, only with age on his side. I dont think Jackson can be as effective as he has been without Pienaar, they have a quality partnership, but Jackson is very much the Robin of the dynamic duo.

        • SportingBench

           /  April 27, 2015

          Just an observation but in terms of hard output, you (and others) are judging Madigan on what he might theoretically do while diminishing what Jackson is actually doing.
          I point this out as in the past Irish selection has been bedevilled by great white hopes and potential talents whilst ignoring the cold hard facts of what people are actually producing.

          Madigan isn’t showing enough to be a starter at 10 for Ireland and is not looking like a decent shout off the bench at 10 either at the moment and while there might be reasons for that, the simple fact is Schmidt shouldn’t and thankfully wont pick players on what they might do but instead will focus on what they are doing right now. Look at the winger selection last year of Kearney and Trimble. It was based on factual output at the time rather than potential and talk of natural talent and performance ceilings was ignored. The cold hard fact is that Madigan’s place kicking and running game mean he has been a option off the bench covering 10, 12, 13 and 15 in case of injury, rather than as a game changing option and so Schmidt uses him as such.
          Madigan however has lost performance this year from even last year and with the return to fitness of other players also capable of covering across the backline (Fitz, etc.) I wonder if for the Schmidt might pick a specialist 10 in Jackson to cover Sexton on the bench given Sexton’s importance and recent injuries including a couple of in-game injuries.
          I think the situation around the WC might be different than at the 6N and there will be good players staying at home regardless but I think judging Madigan on his performances in both Blue and Green this season, it is hard to make a case for him in the squad and I can’t see him getting the game time to make a difference in that regard before the WC.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 27, 2015

            I agree with you re: Madigan, I dont think he deserves to be in the WC squad based on performance, and have said as much. You will not hear me calling for his inclusion unless he starts every game at ten leading up to the WC and plays out of his skin in each. As it is, he has been truly MOCed up as a player and is way down the pecking order when it comes to tens and 12’s.

          • “in the past Irish selection has been bedevilled by great white hopes and potential talents whilst ignoring the cold hard facts of what people are actually producing” Good point. It still applies though. e.g. Gilroy has scored 13 tries this season which coincidentally is the exact same number that Fitzgerald has scored…….in the last 5 years in all competitions. I can hear the blather now …You know the stuff. There’s more to being a winger than scoring tries. Well there is but 13 tries in 5 years.

        • Rava

           /  April 27, 2015

          On the contrary I now see Jackson assuming far more responsibility on the pitch and his reliance on Pienaar is nowhere near what it was a season ago.

  4. From the perspective of the national team, I’m absolutely delighted how well PJ has been playing this season, in particular since his return after injurying himself in the Toulon away match. He has to my mind been the stand-out Irish outhalf in the Pro 12. I would be very surprised, if Joe Schmidt didn’t have him already pencilled in as Sexton’s understudy for the RWC. At the start of the season, with Madigan’s woes continuing under the MO’C regime in Leinster I was worried about our lack of an eventual replacement in case of an injury to J10 in the Autumn. I’m not any longer. Now however it’s our seeming lack of an adequate backup for Murray at 9 that has me concerned.

    • Jesper

       /  April 27, 2015

      Sorry Riocard, it’ll be the same as before with Ireland under JS. If Sexton starts it’ll be Madigan on the bench other it’s PJ or Keatley to start. The big knock, in my mind, on PJ is his kicking, from placed balls and from hand.

      • Jesper, you are probably right as regards places on the bench. If however Sexton couldn’t start a game or need to be rested, I reckon Joe would play PJ. Madigan closing out the 6 Nations decider in Paris is over a year ago. Since then he has played damn all at 10, his confidence is shot, while PJ has gained in assurededness and general play direction big time. I’m a huge fan of Madigan, but I can’t imagine Schmidt ignoring Jackson’s improvement this season.

        • Perhaps it is comparing apples and oranges as it probably is a genuine excuse this time that leinster are just a bit exhausted-like look at seanie O’brien, the poor man has had every ounce squeezed out of him since being declared in any way fit and he had a rare poor outing I thought-but that game has to have some implications intrenational selection wise. It was players competing for places, ye know, actually competing against each other. Who from ulster didn’t enhance their credentials? Who from leinster did!? Tuhoy v McCarthy, that’s a win for white. Henderson v anyone? He is in (-what a hit that was on heaslip). Gilroy v Fitzgerald, it’s clear the way the wind is blowing from the opinions here. Darce v cave (or indeed McCloskey)? Best v Cronin/Strauss? Black v Healy/McGrath? Henry in his battle v ruddock/o’donnell/Murphy? And yes pj v madigan. All I would say is that this game perhaps blew the narrative that only for a brain fart by madigan leinster would’ve beaten Toulon. They got beaten because of the way they are playing and madigan has been digging them out of holes since about before this time last season, whilst playing in a backline in which everyone (himself included) has been at best up and down, but mostly poor. I know leinster fans are giving out about the lack of young backs being brought in, but even among the established…who is playing in any way well? I feel a bit sorry for gopperth and kirchner, though their displays aren’t good woul they have thrived under Schmidt? I don’t know how Schmidt will view it now for selection. Does he see good leinster players who aren’t playing err….. good and pick them anyway, or does he say you ain’t playing good therefore you ain’t good, come on down Stuart McCloskey, Craig gilroy, paddy Jackson. Tough call.

          • To be fair you do have to consider the turnaround when looking at the head to heads. Just because Ulster players outplayed their exhausted Leinster counterparts doesn’t mean that sudden wholesale changes will happen. If anything Schmidt has proven reluctant to airdrop anyone in, and will look at how the Leinster forwards in particular manned up against a huge Toulon pack for 100 minutes as their yardstick rather than the humbling at Ravenhill.

  5. Yossarian

     /  April 27, 2015

    Henderson was superb on Friday night. I thought he was an international second row in waiting but he has the game for 6 now.
    Jackson looked like Ford the way he zipped the passes and a neat outside break to boot.

    Leinster are a shambles. No sign of the coach changing either. The media defensive is in full flow. Even Franno who has been highly critical of him since the start can see the writing on the wall. http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/leinster-rugby/neil-francis-fifth-place-is-not-even-close-to-being-good-enough-for-leinster-31171946.html

    depressing season just finished and another coming from the looks of things.

    • Forget the “writing on the wall”. If Leinster manage not to qualify for Europe next season MO’C is gone. No doubt about it. Even if they manage it, he may yet be complimented out the door. Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora giving him a public dressing down is significant. Mick Dawson and the rest of the Leinster brain trust are no daws. They understand the financial implications of lackluster season ticket sales and fan unhappiness. At best I’d give O’Connor a 50/50 chance of being in the job come September. Also I endorse wholeheartedly Leinsterlions musings on Leinster’s decline and the treatment of Ian Madigan.

  6. Roundy

     /  April 27, 2015

    Well played Ulster, hope you guys finally go on to win the title. It is depressing watching Leinster though. I am gonna have to stop watching them as it puts me in seriously bad form. Did anyone else notice how easy it was for Ulster to pick off our lineout ball was at times. One lineout near the end of the game the Ulster unit didnt even move off their setup. Its as if they knew exactly where the ball was going. Oooh I getting depressed again even thinking about it. Hendo was brilliant and great to see Henry and Jackson back playing well.

  7. osheaf01

     /  April 27, 2015

    The Pro 12 is Glasgow’s to lose. Best team in it by a mile.

    • Notwithstanding their brilliant offloading and lines of attack, on the evidence of Saturday’s game in Galway, Glasgow have no scrum and a comical attacking maul. I expect them to come up short against whichever Irish team they meet in the final.

    • If the final is against Ulster in Ravers, it’s far from certain to be theirs. Glasgow were made to look awfully second rate by Ulster earlier this season.

      They’re probably the New Leinster though, in that they’re probably the most exciting and best coached team to watch and feed pretty much all their national squad who then fall agonisingly (ok a fair bit) short of their aspirations

  8. ORiordan

     /  April 27, 2015

    Whatever happened to all the respect due to Clive Ross? 😉

    Hendo was on fire on Friday but there is still a question of where he plays and who loses out if he starts for Ireland. Toner? POM?

    I’m sure I saw a rumour somewhere that maybe Hendo is inclined to be more of an off the cuff player and doesn’t necessarily follow the letter that Joe lays down so maybe that is why he got relatively little time during the 6N.

    He is definitely a player that lifts the crowd whether it is ball in hand or destroying a ruck.

  9. SportingBench

     /  April 27, 2015

    Ah, you’ve gone and cursed Ulster now.
    They do seem to be building something up North and appear to have a sense of direction again now the shock of Humph going in the summer has worn off. Delighted for the coaching ticket which will get stronger hopefully when stylish Les comes back.

    It is interesting following all the previous 6N discussion on Earls, Fitz and Zebo that the one Irish winger who truly seems to have the mythical ‘X-factor’ may well be Gilroy. He has always be able and happy to beat a man with a shake of the hips and now he appears to be back to his best so is consistently opening gaps with the ball in hand that simply weren’t there until he created them. Given he can cover full back (clearly a pre-requisite for a back in Schmidt’s Ireland team) I wonder if he is forcing his way into the WC squad ahead of some of the others given he does now offer something genuinely different on a consistent basis.

    • ORiordan

       /  April 27, 2015

      I love watching Gilroy play when he’s on form as there are few better sights in rugby than a winger jinking past the opposition. However I don’t think he really fits Joe’s winger-mould of people who are hard working, hard rucking, defensively sound and can chase kicks.

      • Brads

         /  April 27, 2015

        Gilroy smashed Kearney back five metres at the end of the game. Thought it was Henry at first. Nothing wrong with his defence or physicality. Love seeing him play and im a Leinster fan

      • Rava

         /  April 27, 2015

        If you are saying Gilroy isn’t hard working, sound defensively and a good kick chaser then you are looking at the wrong player. I suggest you look out some videos of him this season, including his performance in the Nov. International against Georgia.
        After having a very poor season last time (I believe he was told to get the finger out or move on) he has put in the hard work and is reaping the rewards.

  10. connachtexile

     /  April 27, 2015

    As much as I love Ulster to win it they are always just one injury away from catastrophe. The likes of Henderson, Herbst or Henry go down and the second string are nowhere near their calibre. I really hope they do it but it might be a season to early. Some decent signings over the summer especially in the backrow and Les Kiss giving direction from on top with Doak having a year under his belt as a senior coach and I could see them going all the way. This season I hope they do it but wouldn’t put money on them.

    • Paddy o

       /  April 27, 2015

      And that is the possible problem ulster could be looking at next year. Without their front liners they are vulnerable. More of their front liners are becoming internationals. They really need to develop their squad to be able to challenge on 2 fronts as Leinster have managed previously. Connacht are going to put pressure on the traditional big 3 and indeed top 6 next season in a big way I’d wager.

  11. Kevin

     /  April 27, 2015

    Think Gilroy is a bit of a flat track bully to be honest. I’d like to see a breakdown of those he’s scored his 11 or 12 tries against? Huge fan of Luke Fitz but jesus he was awful under the ball in Friday’s match

    • ORiordan

       /  April 27, 2015

      If you are a huge fan of Luke Fitz then it can’t be for his try scoring. This season Gilroy has scored 13 tries from 22 games (1 against Zebre). Fitzgerald has taken 74 games over the last 5 seasons to score 13 tries (4 against Zebre/Aironi)

    • Rava

       /  April 27, 2015

      Only Toulon, Leicester, Leinster and Glasgow among those Kevin.
      Oh and you should have a look at this against Scarlets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmTa066H3N0

      • SportingBench

         /  April 27, 2015

        To be fair, scoring tries against Leinster is not achievement, everyone does it these days 😉

        • Also to be fair Scarlets regularly consider defense optional. If they didn’t they’d be Top 4 material again instantly I think.

    • jacothelad

       /  April 27, 2015

      Dear Kevin ,better to not type ballix and then not look an idiot rather than spew claptrap in to print and confirm it. You might have been ignored but then you said “Huge fan of Luke Fitz”. a man who couldn’t score in a women’s prison with a sack full of pardons. 13 tries in 5 years. I bet he wishes he was as good as a flat track bully. As for Gilroy being a flat track bully, I suppose scoring against anyone is better than not scoring…like Fitz. What do you see in Fitz’s try scoring that is superior to Gilroy’s. Is it the rarity value that makes his tries against Treviso and Zebre so special. Or his two tries in 30 internationals..both against Italy in one game btw.

      • Given the amount of competition and cover in Ireland for the wings. Am wondering why Joe has not taken Gilroy aside for the talk that Jared had about switching positions. I mean is the real opportunity to compete for an Ireland place not at full back?

        • Stephen

           /  April 28, 2015

          If Schmidt thought there was room for competition at full-back, surely Jared would have been told to stay at 15 . . .

          • Was the Jared decision a fire fighting selection? Given the decline of Darce and retirement of BOD ? Where as Kearney has lost form in particular ?

          • But sure we have Felix Jones lads, what more backup do you need?

            Although someone does need to tell Rob to stop running straight into contact. He’s solid at the back but I can’t remember him really busting through a defensive line this season. I’d swap him and Jones for the warm-up games to see how we get on.

            (Or Payne, an Ireland backline with Luke at 13 and Payne at 15 could be tasty, no matter how unlikely it is)

      • osheaf01

         /  April 28, 2015

        It’s one of the mysteries of the age.
        Luke Fitzgerald, Quality International Class Winger.

        I’ve never seen it myself. Centre maybe; patently not at wing.

  12. Ah lads don’t jinx us!

    I think Ulster will take a lot of confidence out of the knowledge that our Tormentors-in-Chief of the last half-decade or so won’t be around for their annual “(Let’s) Knock (Ulster) out stages”, and it was largely sealed due to a win over them as well. Unfortunately didn’t see the match (ended up getting a dose of food poisoning at a birthday dinner, made the wrong choice in the end!) but I reckon if we can get 7 points out of the next two games we might just shade the Brave and Faithful.

    Just to pick up on some other points in other comments:

    – Madigan will still go to the WC, but he’ll be a super sub only. Jackson will likely start at 10 against at least Canada and Romania.
    – People will probably start frothing at the mouths over arguments about Ireland’s back row starting now.
    – Ulster representation in the Ireland panel could double between the 6N and WC: Gilroy (has pretty great defence, see his 6N two years ago when people were worried about him and Zebo going up against the Welsh backline. Worked out pretty OK I think), Henry (to quote Best: “Isn’t it great he’s gotten over his cholesterol issues?”), Tuohy (provided he doesn’t break his arm again) and Jackson all stepping things up to join Best, Bowe, Hendo and Payne. Hell, even Trimble could make a late charge based on pre-season if he gets gametime in the warm ups under Joe.
    – As an Ulsterman, watching Leinster’s “demise” has been funny. As a rugby fan, it’s saddening. The question is, who do they bring in to fix it (whether in a month or a year)? Do they promote Girv? Bring in someone with repair pedigree like McKenzie?

  13. You started with “Leinster’s season is over”, though you mentioned the play-off armageddon later. Whilst I am by nature a pessimist, surely I can’t be the only one who has looked at the last two rounds and wondered how bad this can still sink (or should that be stink?).
    I wouldn’t bet against Scarlets picking up 10 points from their last two, nor would I bet against Edinburgh giving the Dragons a good seeing-to. Sadly, worst of all, I definitely wouldn’t bet on Leinster beating Treviso with a bonus point. If we don’t manage that, then we could need at worst a draw on the last day away to Edinburgh. If we’ve witnessed some shite this season already, I can’t imagine how bad it could be if we need something from the last match.

    On a positive note [born in Dublin, but went to school in Belfast…] I’d echo everything said above about Jackson. But I wouldn’t bet on his kicking… Unfortunately, he may not have a chance to prove he can kick under pressure before the World Cup.

    • Agree on Jackson’s kicking. I can’t for the life of me understand why we don’t rotate between Pienaar and Jackson for kicking (and worse, persevere with Pienaar when it’s clear he’s having an off day). I get that you want to put faith in your kicker but doing it to the point where you’re solely dependent on them (as Ulster are too on Pienaar in general I feel, but while he’s fit and in form it’s fine I guess) it can certainly come back to bite you. It’s probably the main thing that’s keeping Madigan in the WC squad at this point.

      • Yeah I’d like to see a breakdown on it, but my impression is that pienaar’s strength would be the long and straight kicks. He is certainly significantly better from long range than Jackson. I’m not sure he is as good at the closer, angled kicks. Jackson could be taking a few more of those and i don’t think the %conversion would drop much (if at all). But that’s not based on any numbers, just a casual opinion. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to start sharing some of pienaar’s responsibilities at least during regular season pro 12 matches.

      • Think it’s the single biggest weakness of the present management of Ulster rugby in that they have a very traditional approach to kickers. In particular the short comings are highlighted when ihumph plays. Would have thought that more out of hand kickers along the back line and more place kickers in the team would improve the accuracy rate.

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