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Ulster midfield can defy the South African heat and fire province into URC final, believes former winger Andrew Trimble

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Billy Burns (left) and James Hume, two of the key players if Ulster are to win in Cape Town

Billy Burns (left) and James Hume, two of the key players if Ulster are to win in Cape Town

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Billy Burns (left) and James Hume, two of the key players if Ulster are to win in Cape Town

Of course it’s all about the team performance but, having said that, three players have to shine to ensure that this trip to Cape Town will end up producing the desired end product.

Providing there is ball to work with, this trio will set the tone and drive the game-plan. And it will test them to their limits.

As if having travelled 6,000-odd miles and coping with the intense heat of Cape Town wasn’t challenging enough, Ulster must take on a Stormers outfit who have won their last nine matches and are unbeaten at home since December.

All significant obstacles to overcome should the province reach what will be only their third league final after making the semi-final stages on 10 previous occasions.

And the three players? Stuart McCloskey, James Hume and Billy Burns.

It just so happens that they play alongside each other too with Burns the game-manager, McCloskey seemingly a blunt instrument at 12 but, in fact, a hugely skilled operator, and Hume who is tearing things up at outside centre this season.

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Andrew Trimble is excited by Stuart McCloskey and James Hume

Andrew Trimble is excited by Stuart McCloskey and James Hume

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Andrew Trimble is excited by Stuart McCloskey and James Hume

Hume’s performance last Friday night, as Ulster minced Munster, was a top drawer demonstration of outside centre play whether passing, linking or making his tackles count.

The combination of McCloskey and Hume in midfield – they have played the last six Ulster games together – has been attracting attention and Andrew Trimble is impressed.

“They have a really nice understanding they both play to their strengths and complement each other really well,” said the former Ulster and Ireland winger.

“Stuart is so consistently good and often he’s the best player in the team. And that’s week in and week out."

And what of Hume? Here, Trimble sees a player who continues to make really impressive strides and, at 23, has yet to hit his playing peak.

“James just backs himself,” added the 37-year-old. “You can tell by the way he walks and runs, and his body language is always confident. And he always backs that confidence up.

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“The two of them are just a great combo and as long as they are playing that midfield fires and then guys like Robert Baloucoune and Ethan McIlroy are going to find space.”

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Stuart McCloskey

Stuart McCloskey

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Stuart McCloskey

Rather more unsung but still essential to the process is Burns at 10. The 28-year-old has been a stalwart of consistency and has played and started in 23 of Ulster’s games this campaign

Burns’ reading of the game, leadership and decision making are integral to Ulster’s launch plays while he also does not shirk when it comes to tackling, even though he is no big hitter.

This time, Ulster backs coach Dan Soper takes up the mantle.

“You just have to look at how much Bill has played this year and he is so integral to what we do, when we’re going well Bill is generally on top of things," says Soper.

“He has a huge amount of input into what we’re trying to do, and the players have a lot of trust in him. We’ve got some nice combinations there, and they work well together.”

Now it all needs to click again on Saturday.


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