Magners League: Ulster draw on inner strengths against Connacht
Connacht 15 Ulster 15: Moments after Alain Rolland blew for the final time in Saturday night’s 15-15 draw in Galway I received a text from an Ulster season ticket holder.
Clearly not happy with what he had witnessed he wrote: “Scrappy rubbish — let themselves down.”
He was not referring to the home side.
Now, he was at home watching the proceedings on television whereas I was seated in The Sportsground press box which is one of the most bizarre facilities you will find anywhere, the Galway stadium having been developed with greyhound racing rather than rugby union in mind.
Nowhere else, I am quite certain, is there an area reserved for those of my trade where one finds oneself seated between two sizeable spheres urging one to Bet Here, whilst behind there is a bar in full swing.
Maybe all of that played some part in what I witnessed in comparison to my texting friend in Co Down saw.
For his opinion and mine on Saturday’s events in Galway were about as far apart as the 200-plus miles that separated us in a geographical sense.
For what I saw was an intriguing inter-pro battle, the outcome of which was in doubt right to the final whistle.
It was hard — incredibly physical — it was fast and at times it was frantic.
The action was relentless, with both sides showing total commitment to the pursuit of some reward for their night’s work.
True, there was no try-scoring, with each of the rivals’ points attributable to goal-kickers.
Connacht’s Ian Keatley landed five from six while Ulster’s Paddy Wallace and Niall O’Connor managed four out of five and one from two respectively.
Nor were there many examples of the ball-through-hands and quickly across-the-back-line rugby some casual observers feel should be provided for their delectation and entertainment.
But moments like Gareth Edwards’ try for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in Cardiff at the end of that truly amazing passage initiated by Phil Bennett’s audacious triple jink under his own posts are one-offs.
Think about it; that is why we continue to remember that score 37 years on. For the greater part the game — particularly the modern-day professional version of it — is about sheer hard graft into which may sometimes be dropped sprinklings of virtuosity. Thomas Edison’s line about genius being “one per cent inspiration and 99% perspiration” was spot-on.
Certainly there was much perspiration on Saturday night at The Sportsground, not least on the part of Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin who saw his side lead and then trail before going in all-square at the break, following which they nosed ahead three times in the second period only to be reeled back in on each occasion.
Nor will his anxiety have been helped by the fact that Ulster played one quarter of the game with 14 men.
The fact that the Ulster players yellow-carded by referee Rolland either side of half-time were Paul Emerick and Andrew Trimble reveals much about the intensity of the battle for when one finds wingers being sent to the sin bin for moments of aggression beyond the referee’s pale, that puts things in perspective.
Emerick’s time out was for a 26th minute bodycheck on Connacht wing Fionn Carr and it says much for Ulster’s defensive organisation and discipline that, contrary to the norm, they conceded no points in his absence bar the three from the penalty for the American’s challenge.
And they did well to escape so lightly during Trimble’s period of sideline reflection on an ill-advised challenge which floored home No 8 Mike McComish having been hit in the air.
More worrying was the loss of Stephen Ferris who tried to continue but found he could not with only 12 minutes played. Willie Faloon deputised and proceeded to underline what a fine flanker he is. A year to the day earlier, Ulster had left this same stadium with a bonus-point win. This time they had to settle for 40 per cent of that 2009 tally.
But Saturday two points were earned against much-improved opponents, for which reason I disagree with the text I was sent. It wasn’t scrappy rubbish and they didn’t let themselves down. It was hellish hard and by and large they weren’t found wanting.