Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

It's a damp squib, but Ulster's euro bid is on track

Pitch battle: Referee Leighton Hodges decides the Ravenhill pitch is not playable

WITH last night's RaboDirect PRO12 date with Scarlets washed out as a result of relentless rain which left Ravenhill waterlogged, Ulster have been weighing up the pluses and minuses arising from the postponement.

The fact that by mid-afternoon referee Leighton Hodges had decided the match was off meant Ulster were able to stand down their army of ancillary staff and stadium vendors relatively easily.

Asked when Ulster last had a Ravenhill postponement, Chief Executive Officer Shane Logan (pictured) said: "The first of our staff started working here in 1988 and none of them can remember one in that time. It's an excellent pitch and it's never let us down. But these weather conditions meant it just wasn't possible."

With last night's game another sell-out, the thing that most of the 14,000 spectators who had bought tickets wanted to know was when will it be played.

Ulster and Scarlets examined the possibility of going ahead this afternoon, but in addition to the possibility of more rain, the idea proved impossible in terms of logistics.

Ulster's CEO paid tribute to Scarlets for having made every effort to stay over and play the match today.

"That potentially was a possibility and we're grateful to Scarlets because they tried really hard to get hotel accommodation and get flights, but they couldn't get enough of either to enable them to stay over," he said.

As has been the case nationwide this week, the elements have won on this occasion.

Logan was philosophical about that.

"You've seen the weather across Britain and Ireland – it has been shocking and we're not immune from that," he said.

"We probably stood a better chance than most of being able to play it but in the end it was just too much.

"It's just one of those very unfortunate things and we're very disappointed.

"We're sorry for the supporters, but we had no choice."

He was not aware of Scarlets followers having made a wasted trip from west Wales for last night's game.

"You'd quite often get a few of them who live locally and Scarlets brought a couple of hundred over for the (PRO12) semi-final last year," he said.

"But I can't imagine there having been too many for this fixture – and, of course, they wouldn't have been able to get a ticket because it was sold out."

There are a couple of options for rescheduling at the start of next month, namely the weekends beginning March 7 and March 14.

Either of those dates would see Ulster fielding a weaker side than would have been the case last night, however.

Ireland play Italy in Dublin on March 8 and France in Paris on March 15 and that could mean Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Iain Henderson – all three were to have started last night – being absent if the match goes ahead on either of those weekends.

As it is, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt's hopes that those three players would get much-needed game-time before heading back to Carton House for a week of intensive preparation ahead of next Saturday afternoon's showdown with England at Twickenham were dashed by last night's postponement.

"When all is said and done, the date for the rearranged match will be a decision for the (PRO12) League, but I would say it is more likely to be the second of those two (March weekends). Anybody who bought a ticket for the Scarlets game, that will be valid for whenever the match is rearranged," Logan said.

"We hope to get confirmation of the date from the League early next week so that we are able to let people know as quickly as we can.

"Obviously we want the game to go ahead (as early as possible). We don't want any kind of fixture congestion coming up to a Heineken Cup quarter-final. We would much have preferred the game to go ahead but we've got to deal with whatever is set in front of us."

While there are minuses, on the plus side the rescheduling of the Ulster-Scarlets fixture gives players like Tommy Bowe and Lewis Stevenson additional time to recover from the injuries which had ruled them out of last night's 23.

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