Ulster’s game against Connacht last weekend was more like a multiple car pile-up rather than a free-flowing game of rugby.
You cannot for a minute fault Ulster in terms of energy and effort, but that elusive “E” for enterprise was, for a large part, missing from the performance.
All the predictions were that inter-pro derby would be a tight physical affair, and neither the players nor the coaches could be accused of hyperbole because that it is exactly what was offered up.
Frustratingly, Ulster played right into Connacht’s hands by offering up single ball-carriers who got smashed — repeatedly — by a committed defence.
The tackle itself managed to slow the ball, and Connacht had no need to commit further players to the breakdown — virtually a full defensive line revelled in a counter-offensive effort which has become synonymous with the men from the West.
While a draw was a fair result, it could have been so different for either side. The result could have been tipped in Connacht’s favour had Ulster finished the game with 14 men, as Andrew Trimble was incredibly fortunate not to receive a red card for his mid-air challenge on Michael McComish. The winger had already been warned and it was a crass, clumsy challenge.
The last thing one can fault is Trimble’s commitment to chasing high balls, but his judgment has to improve whether to challenge in the air or make the tackle on the ground.
In the last five minutes Ian Keatley knocked on in his own 22, presenting a gilt-edged opportunity for Ulster to kill the game. But nothing came of it and a further line-out blunder sent the blood pressure racing as the game finished deep in Ulster’s half.
Nevertheless, two points is better than nothing, but the scent of ruthlessness is still missing.
This Friday’s game against Glasgow offers a final pre-Heineken opportunity to practise combinations and try a few things out. Everyone is looking forward to the introduction of Ruan Pienaar and hopefully the Springbok can inspire some imaginative rugby, because there was precious little of it last Saturday night.