The First Half

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The First Half

Post by fermain » Wed Dec 31, 2014 1:02 am

[tag=image] ... inch03.gif[/tag][tag=content]by Grinch Troosers

We arrive at Christmas, out of the play-off places in fifth place in the league, out of Europe and with many of our top line players injured. So, how has it been for you?
In the words of dancing luvvie, Craig thingamyjigger “Disaaaaaaaaaastaah daling”, but hey maybe I’m a drama queen, maybe others are quietly happy.
To assess Ulster’s performance to date you either say, these guys are professional, WTF is going on or you take some account of circumstances. So what’s it going to be?
Oh all right, let’s be professional and let’s go into some of the detail.

Before a ball was kicked in anger, amazingly structural meltdown was achieved. To add to the players coming or going there was the seismic shock of Ulster’s own “Roy of the Rovers” David Humphreys shocking European Rugby never mind Ulster Rugby by packing up his bundle and heading to the Shed at Kingsholm, Glaws.
Why? Well there are a few rumoured possibilities, frustrated ambition is one theory, he apparently quite fancied the IRFU job that went to former Wallaby employee David the Nuke Nucifora, until he felt a kangaroo skin size 11 up his jaxi with orders to quit & don’t come back.
A decent wedge of money, a.k.a. a bumper John Afoa sized salary is suspected to have turned the good doctor’s head, pure and simple, no more than filthy lucre. Or there is the intriguing possibility that a man like David, with an unsurpassed knowledge to the Ulster squad, saw the writing on the wall and thought it best for his lofty long term ambitions to get out of Dodge whilst the going was good.
There of course could be the hackneyed sports cliché “He wanted a new challenge” thrown into the mix but let’s not fool ourselves and so our DOR fled the wee country with barely a few weeks before the action started, leaving a nonplussed CEO to pick up the pieces.
With Humphreys gone, knowing glances were exchanged, dogs gently barking the news that Anscombe was toast. It was highly professional that Ulster allowed Maaak to make the trip in person from Auckland so that Fit could personally give him the bum’s rush out the front door, which many will be pleased to learn, did close with a resounding thwack upon his unprotected crozier. Few tears were shed, even the swim team and associated drinking pals were reported to be ambivalent to his sudden if expected departure.
So still no ball kicked in anger, or even a friendly, and the Lt.Colonel had a few deckchairs to move about the foredeck as the rather large iceberg of a new season approached and our trousers were somewhere around our ankles.
No point in rehashing events other than, it’s always good to know that friends have your back in a crisis, so northwards headed Les Kiss and an outwardly calm Fit Controller commenced yet another, in a number of worldwide searches for the ultimate in talent.
Talk emerged of Les quite fancying the gig full time so he could keep tabs on the Nordies for Josef, and so it turned out, Ulster would only have to wait a season a bit to replace a man who some would characterise as Mr Ulster.
More outstanding news came that a bourgeoning pool of coaching talent was right under our noses as the worldwide search got as far as Lisburn, where part time cricketer Neil Doak was domiciled.
“How does Head Coach sound Neil?”
“Aye all f*@#*g right Fit” ………………….. and so all was almost complete, but what about a forwards coach? Worldwide search anyone? No not this time, stern faced gruff & shouty man Allen Clark was prised from the valuable work of starting an academy for real for the first time in Ulster history.
Dinger remained to mastermind the rock on which opposition attacks would founder.

And ……………….. action
At last rugby was about to break out, bright and new Ulster were home to Exeter and went about chinning them, whilst I was topping up my tan in foreign climes, but when Les threw on a few primary school kids Exeter availed of the opportunity to leave with a one point victory. Good shout Les, eh? Meaningless friendly right? OK.
Next a scoot down to rugby hotbed Tallaght and whilst the locals checked out the Nordie cars, Ulster stole a win from the Mexicans. Any relevance? Not really but always nice to beat the biys in blue.
And so to the real thing, what could beat a trip to West Wales and in front of the SKY Sports cameras, Ulster & Scarlets opened the Guinness Pro12. A vast Welsh crowd of 6000 and a few, failed to make Parc-y-Scaaaaaaaalets anything but what it actually is, an empty shell struggling to gain the affections of the denizens of Strady, a grumbly parcel of malcontents who expect their rugby for £2.50 and their beer at 47p a pint.
The game was much like a test bowlers first few balls, a gentle opener, defence optional, and an 8 try draw 32-32 was recorded.
Back home, the first test was mighty Zebre and a 5 try win which could well have been 10 tries, masked how poor was much of Ulster’s work, how chances were missed that on another day would bite them.
Not the next week though, for it was a comfortable win at hapless Cardiff and after a tight first half, Dan Tuohy continued his try scoring habit and a late Humphreys try added a gloss to no more than a workmanlike win.

The sloppy play against Zebre at home came back with that bite, two weeks later. First warlike Declan Fitzpatrick, a man more used to breaking than damaging others, threw a wild slap or two on the bottom of a ruck & saw a red card. Of course, 14 men are up against it away from home at the best of times.
It is made unnecessarily harder when, having played a strong team at home, you select an insultingly weak team for the swift return fixture, leaving no room for things to go wrong yet still cope.

Cope we didn’t, we may claim to have been robbed by Peter Da FunkyGibbon & Carlo del Shoulda-worn-a-Masko, the TMO, but that would be to ignore the truth.
0-0 at half time says all you need to know about this woeful mess masquerading as a rugby match. We played abysmal rugby, a man short yes but if you are ever going to beat a team with a man shot, Zebre would be amongst your top teams to try it against. A depressing 13-6 defeat was the result.

If you want a team to face after a setback, Edinburgh are a decent option and so it proved. Against a team who were not good enough to trouble the scoreboard all night, Ulster were tolerable in taking a 13-0 lead into half-time. As the second half wore on no tries were added until Nick Williams put in an energetic cameo to an otherwise listless effort, waking up one or two other players form somnolent slumbers to score late tries through Rory Best on 68 mins & Angry Andrew Trimble with is 2nd of the night with only 3 minutes remaining. Possibly the least impressive 30-0 win ever witnessed but welcome for all that.


The First Test
The first real opposition of the season arrived the following week in the shape of league leaders, Glasgow Warriors. Weegies were seen as a real threat, playing good rugby under Gregor Townsend. This would show how we were shaping up, one week ahead of the new European venture, The Soupa Doupa Cup.
In fairness, this was real rugby, a highly energetic Ulster who went about their business with gusto, but a tight game for all that with 5 penalties giving Ulster a half-time lead of 15-6 in a game of big collisions thrust and counter-thrust, only tries lacking.
At 15-9 with over an hour played, the game was in the balance, Weegies late converted try in similar circumstances the previous season, fresh in the memories and the crowd was tense. Tension was lifted with two swift snappy tries from Tommy Bowe & Craig Gilroy and a result of 29-9 was a great reward for the best performance of the season, if harsh on Glasgow. Sadly though, it remains the only high class performance of the season.

The Soupa Doupa Cup
Much has been written about how this successor to the wonderful Heineken Cup came to be spawned, little of the tail enhances the reputation of any participants, with plot and counterplot, side deals, constant press-aided sniping from the much hated English PRL, allied to shifting positions from a variety of surrender monkeys, open warfare in Wales, a secretive bit of financial plotting in Scotland, and a thrombosis of apparent inaction from Dublin & the expected Italian Flouncing, threatening to buy their own ball & take it home.
Ulster ventured yet again to Welford Road, scene of joy as Ulster flattened all resistance in their final Heineken Cup group game in January. Oh how we celebrated. There was to be no repeat, Ulster did not turn up, they played a heartless spineless game and were within a bad TMO call of conceding a TBP before half time. However 19-3 down at the break, Ulster brought on Cave & Olding and the game turned. A bonus point was salvaged in a 25-18 defeat but it was an inexplicably tame, error strewn performance after the high of a 1st class 80 minutes full of energy the previous week.

Worse Still
If Leicester was a shambles, especially the first half, what could be done against Globogym back at Kingspan?
Well ………….. very little actually, Toulon came with their oh so impressive squad and put in a cold-blooded 2nd gear performance where they dominated the breakdown and generally overpowered an Ulster team that on the back of disappointment at Leicester, seemed utterly unconvinced that they belonged on the same pitch as Toulon’s Gods of Rugby.
No against the odds battle here, a meek acceptance of our fate, not a blow struck in anger until the game was lost and this season’s speciality, “the late doomed effort” provided a try to Gilroy of real quality, but for all that a mere meaningless adjunct to a dismal effort. Worst of all, in form Andy Trimble badly damaged a toe & joined the growing injury list.

Nearly time now for the Autumn Internationals but first just time to squeeze in a game against the team battling hard for the title of worst Welsh region with Cardiff, the Dragons. In another OK win with a less than good performance the Dragons had their fire extinguished in a 23-6 defeat in pouring rain, only a late Fat Deccie try putting any sort of gloss on things.

Autumn Slumbers
Whilst Ireland were enjoying a fruitful few weeks, Ulster players had a break, a group of forwards & Darren Cave went to New York others licked their wounds. Where was the season going from here? Europe was as good as done but remarkably the league was enticingly alive with Ulster sitting near the top and well within the play-off places.
A problem was that we had had a relatively easy fixture list in the early games and things were about to get tougher. First up the visit of Ospreys, league leaders winning every game at that point and scoring tries for fun.
As it happened Ulster were less weakened by AI calls than Ospreys and set about dominating them. All went swimmingly with Ulster building an 18-3 lead and looking home and hosed, time for a kip seemed the way they approached the second half, and right to the point were at 18-16 they looked as likely to lose as win.
Fortunately the bang in form Darren Cave scored his second try of the game late on after some sustained pressure and Ulster had stirred their torpor enough to get out of jail with a 25-16 win.
Unfortunately this was all too typical of Ulster’s season, unable to string together 80 minutes in any game, save for the Glasgow win.

Testing Times
Next up was the always challenging trip to Toemond/Tomond/Thomond – unless that is you send the mighty Sugar, Heaney & a few Ravens to lull them into inactivity.
Surprise surprise another appalling away day, yet this time they not only appeared to have comeback to steal a bonus point, but a generous ref & a yellow card gave an unimaginable prospect of victory with the final kick at goal. As he did with a huge Hail Mary against Toulon, iHumph a man whose kicks at the death were once a stronger point than his tackling, missed a simpler kick than in the Soupa Doupa. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, snatched from the jaws of defeat, everything snatched, including the kick. Quel domage.
Speaking of the Soupa Doupa, SDC time again and time for an easy 10 points off Scarlets. Well at least that was the plan. Part one as accomplished easily enough, no brinkmanship, no last minute grasp at a TBP, all done & dusted by 68 minutes and easy enough so Ruan could collect a yellow card and sit out the last ten minutes. An astute piece of play by Ruan, for of course, there was no sign of anybody in the coaches box having the wit to get him out of harm’s way.
A week according to the cliché is a long time in politics, sport & doubtless many other things & certainly in rugby. Good old Ulster back to the same toothless nonsense that had been displayed at Welford Road & at home to Toulon. Spanked 22-13 by a rubbish team, never ever looking like winning a game that yet again we didn’t land a blow in anger, not even an ould handbeg from Fat Deccie.

So now ushered out the European door in the minds of everyone other than Neil “the mathematician” Doak, he of the Churchillian rhetoric, events turned once more to the Guinness Pro12 and another trip to West Wales.

Now in modern days it might have appeared sensible to stay in Wales from Sunday to the following Saturday, given Swansea is only the same scattering of miles from Llanelli as Donaghadump is from Bangor. Still, who in their right mind would choose to spend a week in West Wales on the Gower?

And so once more into darkest Wales to face the Ospreys, yet again we were passive, mustering one or two decent passages of play but with the usual errors abounding, often from the utterly committed Mick Allen who has handling skills of the sort only exhibited by 1970s props and Neil Best, the man with hands like feet. Such a shame for his industry is exemplary and a lesson to Tommy Bowe & Dan Tuohy amongst others.

Ospreys nearly killed us but an easing back on the throttle and 2 late and meaningless Ulster tries later, a scoreline of 31-20 flattered Ulster ridiculously. This was a trashing and an error strewn thrashing, Pienaar & Humphreys missing touch with penalties robbing the team of position from which to use a very effective maul, dreadful careless rubbish, has anyone witnessed a worse kick than that appalling effort by Humphreys that barely escaped his 22 & ultimately resulted in the try that decided the game before halftime.

So that is how we have arrived where we are, give or take a few dozen details of injuries, the odd passage of decent play, but where exactly are we?

The Season in the Balance
It has been a season of turmoil, but where do Ulster stand against realistic expectations? What is realistic when the entire organisation appears to have been shaken on its brand new foundations? The new coaching ticket, how are they doing? The new signings? What about the NIQ situation and the odd fact of not having a free spot for a post RWC splurge on some world rated colossus?

There must be endless questions generated by occurrences on and off the pitch. In the spirit of this forum, I may as well give my three ha’pence, “so folk will know what to think”.
No ………….. on second thoughts, talk it out amongst yourselves.


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Re: The First Half

Post by Dave » Wed Dec 31, 2014 10:14 am

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I have my own tv channel, what have you got?

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