With the Autumn internationals just around the corner, the big message from the opening weekend of European club rugby is that the Irish are showing no signs of drop off – if anything Irish rugby has put the foot on the gas. Yes, three of the provincial sides played at home and Munster didn’t win in Exeter, but they executed four great outcomes and a draw at Sandy Park must feel like a win – and so it should.
We all expected Leinster to beat Wasps, but they didn’t just beat them they destroyed them mercilessly. Leinster are the complete package – the only thing greater to fear than their team on paper, is their team on the pitch. Leinster are a side with big names giving big performances.
Connacht might not be in the top tier competition this season, but in beating Bordeaux they beat top tier opposition and showed the growing depth in their squad.
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And Ulster raised their game significantly against a tough Leicester side and confirmed the outcome for the Tigers in Belfast is starting to have the certainty of death and taxes -it’s no longer pc to reference nurses.
They didn’t just rely on the once again excellent John Cooney for accuracy and leadership – there were fine performances right throughout the Ulster side and maybe most tellingly from the backrow, which has been an area of weakness in recent seasons.
Marcell Coetzee may not yet be back to his pre-injury levels, but basically two years out is a long time, and you can see over the last few weeks how he’s building his way back in. Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney and second half replacement Sean Reidy all made their mark.
Iain Henderson was once again superb. He often looks exhausted early on in games, but he is relentless – and he was unsurprisingly involved in everything Ulster did well. I’m convinced he’s one of Ulster’s quickest players across the park and he was desperately unlucky to have a try disallowed for Timoney’s marginally forward pass – had it been flat it wouldn’t have prevented the score and a bonus point.
In the backs of course Will Addison returned, this time at centre to great effect, making up for the absence of Darren Cave and opening up a space for Michael Lowry. For anyone who follows schools or underage Irish rugby this is a name you might be familiar with – and if you don’t you will be. Lowry might not have starred on Saturday night but what a game to be thrown into for your first start. He showed no shortage of confidence and character – and progressing from good will only get better and better.
The outcome at Ravenhill came down in many ways to a very simple point of analysis. The Tigers lineout misfired more than the Ulster scrum – and from that Ulster took momentum and ultimately the victory.
The only downside for me was the new “white hand” that’s replace the red Ulster’s European jersey – there are some aspects of a Club’s identity that should be sacrosanct and beyond the reach of commercial and marketing considerations.
Paris next weekend will ask different questions of this developing Ulster squad but under Dan McFarland they may just have the right response and the answers.
The painter must enclose himself in his work; he must respond not with words but with paintings
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