If forced to choose between players of great ability but lacking passion to augment their skill, or players of lesser talent but real zeal, which would you choose?
In the aftermath of Saturday night’s Magners League clash at the Liberty Stadium when Ulster emerged having beaten the highly-rated Ospreys, I know how I would vote.
A year ago, when they met Ospreys in Swansea, Ulster went down 43-0. It was their worst-ever defeat in the competition.
This year Ospreys boast 27 internationals and Saturday’s 22-player squad featured four members of the 2009 Lions.
In contrast, Ulster’s sole Lion, Stephen Ferris, was absent, as were fellow-internationals Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace, Tom Court and injured captain, Rory Best.
Yet on the pitch on which they had been humiliated 12 months earlier, Ulster won 20-16 and might well have had a bonus point.
Given what had happened six days earlier against supposedly lesser mortals at nearby Newport, it was a remarkable upswing.
Whereas against the Dragons they had lacked zest, Saturday night saw them brimful of it.
Units played as units in which each player contributed to the whole.
There was a collective and individual determination to atone for the Newport failure.
But it was not down to doggedness alone, for there was skill, too.
The first and third of the victors’ three tries, scored by lock, Dan Tuohy and wing, Simon Danielli, were beautifully executed examples of team play. Even the second — which, like the first, fly-half, Ian Humphreys, was central — had much to commend it although its origins owed more to a Welsh gaffe than Ulster creativity. Humphreys converted that.
The scrum more than held its own, as did the line-out. The front row shone, both in the tight and loose, showing an admirable appetite for work.
The back row tackled relentlessly, as did the midfield and back three. Everyone played his part, the replacements included.
They dealt with adversity, as when the unfortunate Tuohy exited at the end of the first quarter having attempted to stop a runaway train in the shape of Ospreys blindside, Jerry Collins, moments after Nikki Walker scored the hosts’ first try, cutting Ulster’s lead to 12-8, Hook having kicked a 3rd minute penalty.
And they absorbed the blow of a bizarre end to the first half which saw full-back, Clinton Schifcofske, sin-binned and Ospreys’ Duncan Jones score a try following confusion as to proximity to the interval whistle.
That left it 15-13 to Ulster at the break, after which they outscored their hosts by a second Danielli try to a second Hook penalty.
A richly deserved win. Back up off the canvas, then
OSPREYS: B Davies; J Vaughton, S Parker, A Bishop, N Walker; J Hook, M. Phillips; P James, R Hibbard, C Griffiths; I Gough, A Lloyd; J Collins, M Holah, R Jones (captain).
Replacements: H Bennett, D Jones, J Thomas, T Smith, J Nutbrown, D Biggar, T Bowe.
ULSTER: C Shifcofske; T Nagusa, D Cave, I Whitten, S Danielli; I Humphreys, I Boss; B Young, A Kyriacou, B Botha; D Tuohy, E O’Donoghue; C Henry (captain), W Faloon, R. Diack.
Replacements: N Brady, D Fitzpatrick, T Horua, T Anderson, C Willis, N O’Connor.
Referee: Alan Lewis