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Ireland looking good under Schmidt while Ulster have work to do

By Niall Crozier

Another season is coming to an end, so time for reflection on how it has gone for Ulster and Ireland.

HIGHS: Ulster winning all six of their Heineken Cup pool stage matches. It was the first time they had ever managed to do that and their reward was a home quarter-final – their first since 1999 when they went on to conquer Europe.

Ireland winning the RBS 6 Nations, pipping England to the title on the final day of the series by virtue of having beaten France in Paris for the first time since 2000.

LOWS: Ulster bowing out of the Heineken Cup in controversial circumstances with full-back Jared Payne having been ordered off by French referee Jerome Garces after just four minutes of their eagerly-awaited clash with Mark McCall's Saracens.

Ireland's last-gasp defeat by the All Blacks, who had trailed 19-0 at the end of the first quarter, and losing to England at Twickenham where, despite not having played to their full potential, Joe Schmidt's side nevertheless might well have won.

STAND-OUT MOMENTS: Ruan Pienaar's charge-down of Leicester captain Toby Flood's attempted clearance kick leading to a match-changing try in the final pool match of the Heineken Cup. Ulster, 10 points shy of parity at the time, went on to win 22-19 with Pienaar scoring all their points.

Full-back Rob Kearney's try – Ireland's third of a remarkable opening quarter against New Zealand – when he pounced on Israel Dagg's dropped pass and raced home from 75 metres out.

OUTSTANDING INDIVIDUAL: Andrew Trimble who walked off with a host of awards – Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year, Ulster Rugby Writers and Broadcasters' Player of the Year, the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club Player of the Year and his fellow professionals' Players' Player of the Year.

In what was the perfect response by a man whose international career had appeared to be over, Trimble scored against Scotland, Italy and France in the Six Nations.

CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM: Joe Schmidt's first season as Ireland coach yielded the Six Nations title. His influence has been enormous and hopefully the upward curve will continue.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Ulster have lost World Cup winners in Johann Muller and John Afoa, plus a Lion in Tom Court. Their exits have left huge gaps.

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