So, apparently five points was a case of ‘mission accomplished’ after Ulster’s fixtures against Leinster and Munster.
This was the situation created by the irrational four day turnaround imposed by the IRFU.
It wasn’t Brian McLaughlin’s fault — he and his coaching team were faced with a situation which demanded the juggling and management of scarce resources. However, effectively to write off one game in order to maximise chances of victory in another is enormously disheartening for supporters.
So often you hear the question asked, ‘Is this a must-win game?’ and you get the standard answer — ‘we want to win every game.’ Well, Ulster’s last two matches proved the difference between theory and practice. While McLaughlin’s young charges defended with real heart down at the RDS, we should not gloss over the fact that this was a team selected for a ‘mission impossible’ in Dublin. It certainly wasn’t sent out to lose, but the selection told its own tale.
If you really ‘want’ to win pick a side which stands a proper chance. I would liked to have seen some senior players standing beside our young boys in Dublin. Yet, it is hard to fault Ulster’s tactics, as the situation demanded such an approach.
Fundamentally, the IRFU demeaned the status of an interprovincial and shortchanged the fans, who paid their money to see the strongest sides possible compete, within acceptable international constraints. The five points may have been achieved but the festive period was one of the darker moments for interprovincial rugby in Ireland.