RabboDirect Pro12: World Cup won’t affect Ulster this time
Four years ago the World Cup knocked Ulster’s Magners League campaign for six.
Following a 17-16 Ravenhill victory over Ospreys in the opening match, followers of the team then coached by Mark McCall had to wait two months for their next win.
Edinburgh, Dragons, Scarlets and Glasgow in turn put Ulster to the sword, with a draw against Leinster between the last two of those defeats the only break in that depressing pattern to which Gloucester and Bourgoin added Heineken Cup reversals. Bleak times.
Now wind the clock forward four years.
On Friday night, Ulster launched their 2011/12 campaign with a 28-14 RaboDirect Pro12 home win over Glasgow.
Even with nine players away on World Cup duty for four different countries, Ulster were impressively strong.
Unlike 2007, it will not be eight weeks before they win again.
In professional sport, much is said about ‘strength in depth’ and ‘competition for places’. In the case of Brian McLaughlin’s Ulster squad of 2011, those aren’t just clichés.
For after a slightly disjointed start on Friday they proceeded to outplay their guests, witness a try-count of three to one in their favour, built on marked superiority in scrum and line-out.
No, it wasn’t a flawless display; there were errors.
But second-half conditions were wretched and, for a first competitive outing, there were sufficient hugely encouraging signs to support the belief that Ulster are in good shape all over the pitch.
Dan Tuohy and captain Chris Henry were outstanding in the second and back rows respectively. The former’s line-out play was highly impressive, as was the accuracy of hooker Andi Kyriacou’s throwing to him.
In the scrum, too, Scouser Kyriacou and his props Paddy McAllister and Jerry Cronin were rock-solid.
And when your set pieces are working, your backs can play. Thus we saw Darren Cave prosper alongside Nevin Spence in a partnership that offers real cause for optimism.
Half-backs Paul Marshall and Ian Humphreys contributed 18 of Friday night’s 28 points, with the former nipping in from close range — after more great work by Tuohy — for a try which gave Ulster breathing space just before half-time.
Humphreys was unable to convert from touch, but he did add the extras to Cave’s opportunistic touchdown at the end of the first quarter and Henry’s richly deserved score late on, as well as kicking penalties in the 17th, 50th and 58th minutes, with the latter two of those right out of the top drawer. All told, four out of his six off-the-tee attempts were on target.
The back three had a pretty smooth ride defensively, with Ian Whitten doing particularly well in his uncharacteristic left wing role. Tommy Seymour got no change out of him. And when Whitten ran with the ball, he always made ground.
No, having gone 5-0 down after 11 minutes, Ulster recovered to boss the match, witness three tries – two of them converted – and a trio of penalties in exchange for three goals. Do the maths.
Played one, won one and you won’t have to wait two months for the next victory.