Sunday, September 08, 2013

Pienaar can't return quickly enough for Ulster

Difficult first night out for Ulster’s half-backs as they are downed by the Men of Gwent, writes Manus McMichael…

Rugby Opinion

As Ulster started the season this weekend they had a poor outing more reminiscent of the Ravenhill men from four or five years ago. Knock-ons, poor restarts, poor decision making and goal-kicking completely off the radar.

The lineout collapsed, almost a complete liability, turning over the ball more often than not. Complete domination in the scrum and maul were not used to the full benefit, and the back row was absolutely outplayed as the carrying, tackling and rucking had little effect throughout. Having said that, Roger Wilson's score was a very patient and calculated effort. Also his control at the back of the scrum was exceptional, The “Sarge” was missed last year in the tight games.

Paul Marshall had a disastrous outing, being charged down, caught in possession and passing repeatedly behind the first receiver or above their head. Jackson admittedly had a very good game in the 10 shirt, as an outhalf. With a somewhat inexperienced centre partnership and left winger. Taking the ball to the gainline, fast fizzing passes and great accuracy considering the service he had been getting. Kicking for goal from the young man though was once again inexcusably bad. Nothing really else to say here, as it has already been said by the masses of “experts” on Twitter. A real long hard look at the way the he kicks the balls is going to need to be taken. He was not this bad of a kicker a few years ago, and he has not lost any confidence by the way the rest of his game looks, so something is up with his technique. And even though it is not required for an outhalf to kick for goal in rugby per se, this is Irish Rugby, and in Irish Rugby outhalves live and die by their goal kicking. There is no other way to describe how our coaches and selectors approach the number ten position. To ensure that he stays within the plans of the IRFU, he must address the problem to progress as a player.

Ian Porter was a welcome replacement at half-back. His pass was considerably better and his decision-making is somewhat more conservative, if not maybe too conservative at times. He had a nice break down the right flank, some classy hands shown on the way. At the end of the game Ulster where pushing and punishing the Dragons on their tryline, basically all the Welsh forwards where drawn in to the collision area, and the Ulster backs were clearly screaming for the ball as a try was certain down the left, yet Porter stood back and let the likes of non-penetrative carriers such as Declan Fitzpatrick take the ball on first-up crashes and pick and goes – all the way from one side of the pitch to the other, perhaps this is where the ever mercurial Paul Marshall becomes a hero as he so often does. It is my opinion that Porter should start next week and that Marshall should be brought on as the “Super-Sub”. That is where his strength is, top end speed and a carnivorously attack focussed mind that is detrimental to his team against defences that are not tired, yet against the same teams after sixty plus minutes – he's dynamite. With a little more experience Porter might learn that in the same situation again he needs to pull the trigger, with 50 times capped Andrew Trimble and the gunslinger Jared Payne on the three quarter line there will be results.

James McKinney did not really have enough time or ball to change the game, two decent kicks to touch from generous positions and a good pass that Fitzpatrick ignored are the only things that stick out. It should be noted that McKinney is a good goal-kicker and did not get any chances to show this, but from what has been seen, not the first-five that Paddy Jackson is. I am not saying that if Jackson kicked all his goals the Irish side would have won, because in that situation Tovey would have to also have kicked all his goals, and he missed a fair few himself. The lesson here is that with Pienaar on the pitch the Northern-most province are a much better team, the goals will be kicked and the cool-headedness on show almost always sees them home. They would not have been in the position to lose this game with 20 minutes to go.

The performance as a whole was chaotic with little invention and that must be addressed, no amount of top-class kickers can change that.

Manus McMichael (@The_Dange) : One-time Irish exile living on the border.

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