Friendly fire gets Ulster set for Tigers
In the build-up to Friday night's pre-season friendly against Leinster at the all-new Ravenhill, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe vowed to maintain a sense of perspective regardless of the outcome.
True to his word, he was wholly grounded in the aftermath of his side's slender, hard-earned victory, refusing to major on the fact that his side outscored their rivals by three tries to one.
All but five of Leinster's points came from the boot of New Zealander Jimmy Gopperth whose two first-quarter penalties, plus his conversion of Dominic Ryan's 24th minute try, had opened up a 13-point lead.
But thereafter it was Ulster who kept the scoreboard operator busy, with first-half tries by Kiwi pair Jared Payne and Nick Williams and a late touchdown by Ian Porter – all converted by James McKinney – seeing the hosts turn round leading 14-13 and finish on the right side of a 21-19 scoreline at full-time.
"We've been training for about seven-eight weeks so it was good to finally get a game under the belt and about 40 minutes for most of the boys. Some took their opportunities," Anscombe said.
A pre-match downpour made a proverbial bar of soap of the ball, a fact the Ulster coach acknowledged.
"The handling was pretty average at times and we spilled over a bit of ball, particularly in that first half (when) we weren't completing our patterns. But you'd expect that at this time of year," he added.
As is his wont, he was unwilling to single out individuals, instead emphasising the fact that several players certainly had boosted their cases for inclusion.
"I think there were two or three of them who did that – new young fellas who showed that they are worth another look. I don't want to single guys out, these are early days and we've got a lot to go.
"But some of them put their hands up and showed they're worthwhile and have got good futures ahead of them," Anscombe said.
Replacement scrum-half Porter, who took over from Michael Heaney, celebrated his first outing in two years for Ulster by grabbing that score-tying try, leaving half-back partner McKinney to win the match by adding the extras.
"I thought he did very well," was the coach's assessment of Porter's contribution. "He fired the ball out and that's what we want given some of the firepower we've got out wide. We need to be clearing the ball from the rucks and I thought he did that very well. He put in some nice kicks as well, so he certainly showed he's worth another look."
Porter's post-match pleasure was plain to be seen.
"I'm delighted to be back. I spent last year doing engineering and half way through it I thought I wouldn't mind another go at the rugby. Then I got the call in May/June, the opportunity to go back in. I'm delighted to come back in; I really enjoyed it," he said.
Next up are Leicester Tigers who will host Ulster on Saturday at Welford Road. There will be changes for that, with the side likely to be pretty close to that which will face the Dragons in Newport on September 6.
"The likes of Chris Henry, Tom Court, Andrew Trimble and Paul Marshall are able to play next week," said Anscombe, who added that Johann Muller "is looking for some game time."
But John Afoa (bicep and calf) is unlikely to return before round four of the PRO12.