Heineken Cup: Joy and pain for Ulster ace Trimble
The high that Andrew Trimble felt as he helped lead Ulster into the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup for the first time since 1999 was tempered last night by news that the winger is set to miss Ireland’s opening Six Nations clash with Italy on February 5 after suffering a broken hand
Trimble picked up the injury in Ulster’s victory over Aironi on Saturday, which finally took Bryan McLaughlin’s side beyond the group stages of European rugby’s top club competition.
The IRFU released a statement last night stating that Trimble will definitely miss the Six Nations opener and there must now be concerns about his fitness for the entire tournament, with a six-week spell on the sidelines, at present a conservative estimate.
Trimble has been in superb form this season and looked nailed on to start for Ireland in that match with Italy and so it is a bitter pill for the 26-year-old to swallow, not least after playing a major role in Ulster’s achievement at the weekend.
However, there is less danger that Trimble will miss out on that quarter-final with Northampton Saints and he has urged his Ulster team-mates to kick on and emulate the achievements of Harry Williams’ side in 1999.
Northampton have a strong Ulster connection with former hooker Paul Shields as part of their management team, and No8 Roger Wilson a permanent fixture in their back row.
They were the only team to come through the pool stages unbeaten, but Trimble feels Brian McLaughlin’s 14/1 outsiders can cause an upset.
“I know that people will be saying that Ulster have done well to get through the group and we have had a couple of decent performances, but the acid test is going to come in the away quarter-final,” he said.
Ulster’s only previous trip to Northampton in the Heineken Cup ended in a 32-9 defeat back in 2002. Trimble added: “We’re here and we want to be tested at that level and perform at that level.
“We're not finished this year by a long shot. We'll go away now and see how the Six Nations goes then we'll get back together and have another lash at it.”
Ulster went into their last pool game at Aironi knowing they just needed a win to secure qualification, but also knew they had to get a bonus point to try and pip Biarritz to top the group, although that proved academic as the Basque side ran in four tries against Bath.
That sealed Ulster's fate to play away in the quarter-finals as they finished eighth of the qualifiers, despite their 43-6 victory over Aironi.
Trimble said: “There was a good bit of pressure on us because we had to go out and perform and get the result.
“I suppose we got side-tracked in the first half by going out and trying to chase the bonus point.
“At half-time we were in the dressing room and there was a little bit of panic stations as we were struggling. We were trying to force the game and force passes that weren't on.”
McLaughlin’s half-time team talk did the trick as Ulster scored five second half tries with the forwards doing most of the damage.
“In the second half we came out and the pack just put up their hands and said we're taking this and they dominated with two push over tries,” added Trimble.
“Aironi kicked a ball out on the full and then we just capitalised, took our tries, and that was it. We were sailing after that.”
It was Trimble's performances on the European stage that threw him into Ireland contention.
Trimble, though, modestly hailed the impact of Ulster's South African contingent.
“We have waited a long time to be part of this. The South African guys, on the other hand, have just strolled in, it's their first year and it was no bother to them,” he said.