New Ulster star born to be on big stage
Ulster winger Craig Gilroy has already written himself into the annals of Irish rugby history by becoming the first player to score a try at the new Aviva Stadium.
However, his feats in Cardiff on Sunday — scoring two tries on his first Ulster start — will probably have more of an impact on the Ulster rugby public.
Gilroy has been scoring for fun at club level with Dungannon and he showed he can carry that form onto the big stage with his brace in the Magners League encounter, showing power and pace to spark Ulster to a first win over Dai Young's side in eight attempts.
Gilroy is set to keep his place in the starting line up for Friday's trip to Italy for the clash with Treviso and Ulster backs coach Neil Doak believes he has a big future in the game.
“He has shown the sort of form for Dungannon in the last couple of weeks, he was shown it as well early season for the Under-20s and he got a start away at Harlequins,” said Doak.
“Chris has always had good feet and he is very physical, he carries the ball well and he chases kicks well, like a lot of the young players in the squad he has a lot to learn but he done well.”
Doak feels Gilroy’s second try at the Cardiff City Stadium was the turning point for Ulster.
“I think we got a little bit of brilliance and a little bit of nativity from Craig in his first start,,” continued Doak. “The way he collected that chip and rounded Chris Czekaj and side stepped the cover defence to finish off a great solo try gave us the energy and confidence and it was nice to get a win against Cardiff as we had done that in seven attempts.
“We done well to take our chances and we maybe didn't play as well as we could but we were clinical with the opportunities we got.
“It was tough and they put us under a lot of pressure in defence but we were pleased to get the win.”
The former Ulster scrum-half wants the side to follow up Sunday with another victory on Friday in Treviso but admits it's a tough assignment.
“It’s vital we get on a roll and pick up a few wins on the bounce as that will keep the players at ease,” he said.
“It's a quick turnaround as we travel to Dublin on Thursday and then fly out to Treviso that night.
“The weather forecast is to be chilly and they might be snow so the handling conditions will be difficult, Treviso have a good home record and they have a big pack so it's going to be physical.”
While it was good news on the pitch, victory in Cardiff came at a price.
Stand-in skipper Johann Muller suffered a neck injury and is likely to miss the Italian trip although he is still being assessed, while loose forward Robbie Diack sprained his ankle and definitely misses Friday night’s encounter.
Meanwhile, Ulster will be missing skipper Rory Best for the crucial back to back Heineken Cup games with Bath in December.
The Ireland hooker faces a six-week spell on the sidelines after fracturing his cheek bone in Saturday's defeat against the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium.
As well as the two vital games against the English Premiership ship sides which will decide Ulster's European feat, Best will also miss the two Irish derbies against Leinster and Munster over the Christmas and New Year period but should be back for the last two rounds of the Heineken Cup.
Of more pressing concern to coach Brian McLaughlin is who he will select for Friday’s trip to Treviso.
With Ireland facing an injury crisis in their back division with Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney both injured and Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy and Tommy Bowe all carrying knocks, Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble have been added to the squad for the final autumn against against Argentina and both are likely to start.
McLaughlin will be hoping that Darren Cave may be available after injury which could see him partner Ian Whitten in midfield with Nevin Spence moving to the wing.
David McIlwaine and Tommy Seymour may also get a recall to the squad after missing out in Cardiff.
Willie Faloon should come into the back row after a storming performance from the bench in Cardiff.
The coach must decide who plays at blindside flanker and No8 with Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg able to fill those spots while Tim Barker will come into the second row to replace Muller.
Ulster will face a tough task in Italy with Cardiff the only side to gain a victory there in the Magners League this season.