Sweet Liberty for Ulster’s shock troops
While their supporters may have been celebrating, no-one in the Ulster camp was getting carried away following Saturday night’s remarkable — and let’s be honest, wholly unexpected — victory over star-studded Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
Just what the inner-mood on Saturday must have been as they returned to the scene of last season’s 43-0 massacre, only they will know. The fact that they had suffered a 23-6 pasting at the hands of the Dragons six days earlier at nearby Newport will not have done much to boost confidence, either, one suspects.
But what the previous weekend’s failure did succeed in doing was instill determination that they would not let themselves down once again. Nor did they. Quite the opposite; they delivered a performance which saw restorative healing of badly wounded pride.
Ulster Rugby’s Operations Director, David Humphreys, summed it up by saying: “We were very disappointed after the Dragons game. As the management team, you begin to doubt yourself. You ask if you’ve failed to prepare the players properly.
“We knew we were better than we’d shown in Newport. The intensity, the energy, the enthusiasm — all of those words — those things were missing last week. So all week long we talked about getting a positive reaction.
“We know what we see every day in training, so we were pretty sure that last week had been a blip. Which is why we were very keen to prove that to ourselves and everybody else.”
However the primary objective had been an improvement on the Newport performance. Ulster had not thought in terms of beating Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
“If you’re being honest you would have to say that in sitting down before the start of the season to target matches you think you can win, Ospreys away isn’t one that would spring to mind straight away,” Humphreys said.
“They are arguably the strongest panel of players in the Magners League.
“So the final 10 minutes we pretty nervy. When you see Tommy (Bowe) coming off the bench, you can just imagine him scoring the try to beat you. But they have good players all over the pitch, any one of whom can do you damage.
“Let’s not get carried away,” he warned. “It’s one result. Just because we have beaten Ospreys on their own ground doesn’t make us a great team, just as the fact that we lost to Newport didn’t make us a bad team.
“But we’re all professionals and the players know they are judged on performances and results. They knew they hadn’t done themselves justice in the first match and you saw the reaction to that.
“It can’t just be a one-off, though. That has to be our level of performance on a consistent basis. Consistency is what it is all about.”