Twelve months ago, the Matt Williams-coached Ulster Rugby side went into their first Magners League match of 2008/09 having suffered two defeats in three warm-up matches in which they had scored 41 points and conceded 38.
Now, with Brian McLaughlin at the helm, they boast rather better statistics ahead of next weekend’s trip to South Wales to face Newport Gwent Dragons in their Magners League opener — played three, won three, tries scored 14, tries conceded two, points for 97, points against 12. Now that’s progress.
Ulster’s record on English soil is not good. But that was something they were determined to rectify and last night they succeeded admirably.
As with their Ravenhill victories against Newcastle Falcons a week earlier and Viadana on Wednesday night, this success was built on a platform of solid defence and adherence to a plan formulated to thwart opponents.
It meant that even with all of their big names on show, Worcester were unable to breach Ulster’s resolute white wall.
Chris Latham, Miles Benjamin, Calum McRae, Willie Walker — they all tried, to no avail.
On taking up the reins, Brian McLaughlin identified defence as an area in need of work. The three performances in the past week show just how productive he and his assistants, Jeremy Davidson and Neil Doak, have been in that respect.
The pride in wearing the Red Hand-emblazoned white shirt is back, along with the passion expected — nay, demanded — of those chosen to wear it.
Ulster made an early statement of intent, scoring the opening try after only six minutes. Centre, Ian Whitten, got the touch-down, with fly-half, Ian Humphreys, adding the conversion.
Predictably, Worcester came back strongly, only to find themselves repelled by a quite magnificent defence. Finally, after much huffing and puffing which failed to blow the door down, they scored a 26th minute penalty, Walker getting that. But that was to be their lot, for even when lock, Ryan Caldwell, was sin-binned moments after the hosts’ breakthrough, the remaining 14 redoubled their efforts.
Benjamin thought he was in just before half-time, but the unyielding Ulster defence held him up, preventing him from grounding the ball.
Leading 7-3 at the turn, Ulster dealt their hosts a huge body blow nine minutes into the second period when Isaac Boss raced home from half-way after a Worcester turn-over. A swift brace of Humphreys penalties followed, stretching the lead to 18-3.
And in the dying moments, Robbie Diack added try number three, with Humphreys converting to complete a memorable night for Ulster.
WORCESTER WARRIORS: Chris Latham; Marcel Garvey, Alex Grove, Calum MacRae, Miles Benjamin; Willie Walker, Ryan Powell; Adam Black, Chris Fortey, Olivier Sourgens; Greg Rawlinson, Craig Gillies; Tom Wood, James Collins, Pat Sanderson (c).
Replacements: Matt Mullan, Aleki Lutui, Tevita Taumoepeau, Graham Kitchener, Will Bowley, James Freeman, David Askew, Matt Cox, Jonny Arr, Ollie Frost, George Crook, Greg King, Andy Short, Rico Gear, Mike Penn
ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Timoci Nagusa, Andrew Trimble, Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Brian Young, Andy Kyriacou, BJ Botha; Dan Tuohy, Ryan Caldwell; Chris Henry (c), Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Ed O'Donoghue, TJ Anderson, Ian Porter, Niall O'Connor, Jonny Shiels, Darren Cave.