Every silver lining has a cloud
For me Ulster dropped the ball against Racing 92 in Paris, and I don’t just mean the unacceptable number of handling errors – the more you review the game the more you feel it’s a match Ulster should’ve got something from.
The scrum was awful in Paris, matched by the dodgy lineout. Good players, experienced players, fell off tackles and there were just too many knock-ons. Yet, despite having a man in the bin, Ulster were in a great position 25 minutes in. They’d picked up two tries and silenced the home crowd and they were showing they could create chances.
When the tide turned before half-time, Ulster found themselves a bit underwater, and for me they panicked. I don’t know how much the mental scars of Munster were a factor, but with a little more belief and composure they could have held on the Racing’s coat tails for longer. With two tries in the bag they should have pivoted to chasing two more and the objective of getting within seven should have been the bonus, bonus.
Ulster seem to be a team – along with a few others – who are regularly capable of delivering four wins in a Pool stage and only sixteen points, whilst others seem to be regularly able to hit the eighteen-point mark from only three. The truth is you can’t get on in Europe without a bonus point here or there and if you can’t get them at home, you’ve got to chase them away.
For that very reason it seemed to me the decision to withdraw Rory Best was premature – though I’m already a fan of Adam McBurney who brings real edge to the Ulster forwards – as was the decision to withdraw Jacob Stockdale. If the coaching team were so keen to further blood young winger Angus Kernohan, they could have done so at the expense of Craig Gilroy who seemed unusually out of sorts at La Defense Arena.
The contrast is with Leinster who didn’t win but got something from their trip to the South of France. It’s that ability to “get something” that secures qualification in the Champions Cup. Leinster and Munster are past masters.
One big positive for Ulster is clearly the midfield pairing of McCloskey and Addison which has real balance, it is only going to get better and better. Don’t be surprised if one or both get a run out in the Autumn internationals.
And as much as Ulster don’t have depth at nine behind John Cooney, they do have competition at ten, where Jonny McPhillips can expect to start a few in the coming weeks.
With Ulster hosting Dragons and then off to Treviso they have a window to build momentum again. Get the set piece right and this team can still challenge.
If a player had waved a finger at me like that – he may have left the pitch with only seven. And whilst his apology was the right thing to do – I don’t expect Ulster or their fans to feel obliged to be overly polite when he visits Belfast. At the end of the Pool stage, the Sky Blues of Racing 92 might not quite fancy the dark clouds of an Ulster January.
Failures, repeated failures, are the finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward to success
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