No need at all for Ulster fans to panic, says Kristian Ross…
So here we are. Ulster Rugby. Two games in. We can all be honest. It hasn't gone well.
The opening day saw optimism that Ulster would easily breeze past the Dragons and kick off the RaboPRO12 with a win. A perfect start with the momentum going into the match against the Glasgow Warriors. But unfortunately things have went dreadfully wrong. And after the two opening rounds last years finalists find themselves with two defeats from two games played.
The home fans at Rodney Parade never had it better as Ulster were simply not good enough against Newport on the opening day. The lacked attacking threat and didn't score any points at all in the second half. Fair enough, the Ulstermen are missing key players, but it was written in stone even after the first eighty minutes of the season. Ulster must sort this... and quick.
Fast forward a week and Ulster were at the newly redeveloped Ravenhill for their first competitive game. The Warriors weren't going to be a pushover and Ulster knew this. With David McIlwaine and Ian Porter in the Ulster squad it’s clear that Ulster will use their youth this season, various and injuries and international duties keeping out certain figures, but its those figures that were missed most on Friday evening in Belfast. Stuart Hogg put the visitors ahead, but Paddy Jackson banished the demons of a poor kicking performance against the Dragons to level the scores. Jackson hit a total of four penalties over the sticks as Ulster led 12-6 at half time.
Six points clear at the interval was good enough, considering how Ulster had played, but come the full time whistle, Ulster were left to rue their second half performance. Long periods of domination \9and a gilt edged try scoring opportunity for Luke Marshall) seemingly had Glasgow on the proverbial ropes, but some excellent defending saw the Warriors hold off the Ulstermen, and when Paddy Jackson missed the chance to send Ulster nine points ahead, they knew that a possible win could be snatched with the right formula. As Glasgow pressured the Ulster line, the fans at Ravenhill could only watch in disbelief as James Eddie bundled over the line with seconds left on the clock and Stuart Hogg’s conversion gave the Scots the points. It was a truly poor night for Ulster who should have won the game comfortably. It was summed up the post match interviews of Johan Muller who looked totally desolate at the defeat, and head coach Mark Anscombe, who seemed positively furious that Ulster had for the second week failed to win, albeit this time round with a seemingly dominant performance. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but a few people then started to question the players, one being Paddy Jackson again.
First of all Jackson has came under quite a bit of criticism over the week, much like in February when the Six Nations took place. Personally I thought he was decent against the Dragons, and despite his one miss answered the critics well. Fans and pundits alike surely must realised that young players, not just Jackson, must be allowed to mature at their own rate, and that the pressure thrust upon them is huge. A certain Johnny Sexton was always commented on with many saying that he’d forever be in O’Gara’s shadow. Look at him now. One of the richest paid rugby players on the planet, plying his trade at a big European club.
Secondly is the young players who are currently within the Ulster squad. As mentioned before David McIlwaine and Ian Porter started the game, and some fans not just of Ulster but of the provinces must understand that these players were thrown in at the deep end this week, and that Ulster’s aforementioned injury problems have already played a part in the poor opening start of the season. When world class players like John Afoa, Tommy Bowe and Ruan Pienaar are all vacant from the starting line up.
In truth, we must not panic just yet. Two defeats is far from the ideal start, yes. But if Ulster just finally develop that killer edge we may see them quickly re-establish the form that they worked so very hard for last season, and as time goes on the big names will return, providing the strength and depth that is needed in order to go on and make a serious challenge for the league. Anscombe is still the right man to take us forward and I am sure that the game against Connacht will see a differently spirited side to the one that took on Glasgow and the Dragons. Just remember... There are still another twenty rounds to go....
Finally on a sad note, it was a year ago on Sunday that Nevin Spence and his brothers Graham and Noel passed away in a farming accident. Nevin who displayed all the clinical attributes and good attitude at Ulster Rugby was sure to be a future international star having already played for the Wolfhounds. The tributes posted on social media and within the news this week has shown that Nevin will never be forgotten, as well of course the new education and heritage centre at Ravenhill being named after him. Despite the fact that he is gone, he’ll always be in everyone’s thoughts. Rest in Peace Nev.
And as always...
Stand Up For The Ulstermen.
I'm Kristian. 19. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.