After last Saturday’s victory over Munster, the players returned out onto to the rapidly freezing Ravenhill turf to thank their fans. The rather haphazard and disjointed manner of this exercise said much about the Ulster performance in the eighty minutes that went before.
It is one of the vagaries of rugby that Ulster did not play as well as they did against Leinster a fortnight ago and yet they still won. Missed kicks to touch, lineouts that went awry at crucial times, and most concerning, an absence of the real attacking flair that we saw against Stade Francais in that tremendous performance before Christmas.
Yes, Ulster scored two tries, but one came from a howler by stand-in Munster outhalf, Paul Warwick, while the other owed much to the strength and off-loading ability of Andrew Trimble. Apart from this Ulster created little and rarely looked like scoring through their own positive play.
Through his strength, pace, appetite for work and effectiveness Trimble was a worthy Man of the Match, but what most caught the eye was his out and out hunger for the game. Having found himself on the international fringes, the winger has much to prove and his play reflected this.
The one area of play that kept Ulster in the game and provided the real difference was in the scrum. Tom Court gave his opposite man, Tony Buckley, a real pasting and together with his front row colleagues, this snuffed out any chance of Munster launching an effective attack.
For much of the game, it looked like it was Munster who were playing in front of their home fans. Despite missing their first choice international pack, they came to get stuck in and, while they lacked the quality up front, the players who come in never dipped below a certain level of intensity. This is the consistency over eighty minutes that still eludes Brian McLaughlin’s men.
Nevertheless, while it wasn’t pretty, it was a win and a lovely four points. The same result would be most acceptable next Friday evening, but as we look ahead to Rounds Five and Six of the Heineken Cup, the players know that the performance needs a serious lift.