Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Magners League: Dream start for Ulster but they didn’t wake up

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 04: Tommaso D'Apice of Aironi Rugby and Pedrie Wannenburg of Ulster during the Magners League match between Ulster and Aironi at Ravenhill on March 04, 2011 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Patrick Bolger/Getty Images for Arioni)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 04: James Marshall (R) of Aironi Rugby celebrates his try against Ulster with Kaine Robertson during the Magners League match between Ulster and Aironi at Ravenhill on March 04, 2011 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Patrick Bolger/Getty Images for Arioni)

Ulster 23 Aironi 10: It may not have been Ulster’s best performance of the season.

Indeed, it most certainly was not, for it fell far short of the excellent display they had produced a week earlier against Cardiff Blues.

Both matches were at Ravenhill and on each occasion the conditions were well-nigh perfect — ideal for the sort of running rugby Ulster had served up seven nights earlier.

All of which left one to wonder if the difference had been in the mental approach.

Consider: Cardiff rode into Belfast occupying second spot in the Magners League table and posing a real threat to Ulster’s top four aspirations. The need to beat them was met by the determination to do so. Ulster were highly motivated.

Aironi, in contrast, came to Ravenhill as the club occupying the lowest of the 12 rungs on the Magners League ladder, not having won a match.

And when Ulster scored two tries in the first seven minutes, most of the 7,700 in the stadium sat back in the expectation of a lot more.

Two in seven minutes? Four in 80 looked a reasonable enough assumption.

But having led 15-0 after 14 minutes, it was to be the 63rd minute before Ulster next troubled the Ravenhill scoreboard operator.

Even then it was only to add three further points for Ruan Pienaar’s second penalty. It was to be the 72nd minute before their long-awaited third try arrived, courtesy of a second opinion by video analyst Marshall Kilgore.

Tom Court’s unconverted third minute try, followed four minutes later by Craig Gilroy’s score to which Ruan Pienaar added the extras, ought to have paved the way for a feast of flowing football.

But a 14th minute Pienaar penalty was to be Ulster’s lot for the next 50 minutes during which they lost their way.

Aironi, in contrast, got better, with fly-half Riccardo Bocchino kicking a penalty and then converting full-back James Marshall’s try just before half-time to cut Ulster’s lead to 15-10.

Ulster spent most of the second half on the back foot, so it is to their credit that they yielded no further points, the defence of their line having been first-class.

Thus that Pienaar penalty and replacement prop Declan Fitzpatrick’s fortuitous try saw them home with 13 points to spare.

Conclusions? Rather than benefitting from that excellent start, Ulster seemed to lose concentration and impetus.

Subconsciously they appeared to feel that their night’s work was done when, in fact, three quarters of the shift remained.

Coach Brian McLaughlin summed up: “If you look at the game I think that in the first 20 minutes we played magnificent rugby.

“I think the problem was that we scored 15 points too quickly.

“That is something we really need to look at because we ended up in a position we shouldn’t really have been in.

“We put ourselves under ferocious pressure for most of the second half and being realistic we didn’t play well after the first 20 minutes.”

Pienaar’s summary of the mood was: “It is another win.

“We’ve got a big one against Dragons next and hopefully we’ll get a win in that to keep the momentum going.”

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