Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ulster v Ospreys & Tigers

This HoR2 blog had it’s first post from an outside contributor back on June 12, 2012

It was a look back on Ulster’s 2011/12 campaign by Kristian Ross, a massive follower of the province despite living in Newcastle himself.

Kristian has since gone on to write regularly for the site and today he wins his 50th cap with his latest offering and thus joins Keego on our “Wall of Liginds”.

All of us involved with HarpinOnRugby would like to thank him for all his excellent posts in that time and we look forward to many more in the future.

In this latest piece he looks back over Ulster’s last two big victories.

We hope to add more names to the wall before the season is out! Fancy joining them one day?  Click here to find out how.

Kristian Ross avatar

Ulster Rugby made it an incredibly memorable two weeks with superb consecutive wins over Ospreys and the Leicester Tigers in the RaboPRO12 and Heineken Cup respectively.

The Ospreys knew that Ulster would be no pushover at the Liberty Stadium, but Ulster knew the same, and the fact that Welsh side had champions pedigree meant Mark Anscombe’s men would have on their guard to avoid defeat. Buoyed by the big win over Treviso in the week previous, Ulster attacked well with some good passing and fluidity but failed to make anything of it and did suffer a blow when Craig Gilroy came off injured and was replaced by David McIlwaine. Discipline has always been a factor over the last few years for the Belfast based side, and Anscombe and his management team knew that if Ulster gave away too many penalties, they would be punished by Dan Biggar, who had already surpassed the thousand point mark in the RaboPRO12 at such a young age. Biggar put the Ospreys ahead via the boot, and a scrappy battle followed for the rest of the first half until when Dan Tuohy had alleged to have used the elbow, but from tv replays it could clearly be called as accidental and Biggar nailed what was a controversial penalty on the stroke of half time to give the Ospreys a six point cushion.

Judging by the state of the game in the first period, it hadn't been a one to remember, and with only six points the difference the Ulstermen knew they could easily get back into it with a score or two as long as they kept it tight within the first ten minutes of the second half. But things went wrong immediately, Michael Allen called for offside within the first minute of kick off and Biggar nailed yet another penalty to make it 9-0. Then to make matters worse, a few minutes later, young Irish international Luke Marshall was adjudged to have not rolled away in the tackle, and once more Dan Biggar sunk another kick to leave Ulster twelve points behind and in some serious trouble.

You cant always say that the decisions in a game swing towards a certain team every team, but it looked like the Ospreys could seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of Peter Fitzgibbon, and the 10,000 fans in the Liberty may have agreed, so Ulster fans did seem surprised when after forty eight minutes a collapsing scrum lead to a penalty being awarded and Paddy Jackson slotted to finally get Ulster off the mark.

For the remaining thirty minutes of the match, Paddy Jackson delivered a place kick masterclass that finally answered his critics perhaps once and for all. The second penalty awarded a few minutes after the first, Jackson converting from a difficult position to leave Ulster within range of Ospreys if they scored a try.

But they didn't need to. The Ospreys started to crumble as every minute ticked by, another collapsing scrum and Jackson was all to happy to bring Ulster within three points, and despite a brief Ospreys attack, seven minutes later Jackson levelled the scores at twelve apiece and had somehow managed to steady the ship and steer Ulster right back into the game.

With just eight minutes remaining, Ulster had victory in their sights, David McIlwaine away down the wing but was wrongly called by Fitzgibbon, in a game that has to said had been officiated in a error strewn way. But it hardly mattered to Ulster or their fans, as moments later Paddy Jackson made it five from a possible five to put Ulster in front for the first time and then to add to the Ospreys woes when Aaron Jarvis was binned and Jackson completed a perfect game with another successful kick making it 18-12 to the Ospreys.

However the Welsh region weren't finished, an Ulster knew all too well about conceding tries in the final seconds, and when the Ospreys launched a huge attack that move right up towards the away teams line, the fans at the Liberty dared to believe that the Ospreys may steal the game that the Ulstermen had tried to steal themselves until a knock on from the ‘Spreys say an Ulster scrum awarded, and the resulting clearance give Ulster what was a brilliant win at the Liberty that had shown so much spirit and desire when all had seemed lost.

And that spirit and desire was taken into the following week. Ulster Rugby were to start their Heineken Cup campaign against the Leicester Tigers. A sell out at Ravenhill, the biggest crowd at the ground since anyone could remember, and a game against the English champions that had huge significance, mainly due to the fact that it could be the tournaments final hurrah. As big games go this didn't disappoint, and it showed from the moment that Paddy Jackson kicked off.

Tommy Bowe returned following a brief layoff due to injury and almost had Ulster off to the perfect start if it hadn't been for a misplaced pass in an opening five minutes that had the makings of a classic, as high tempo rucking and free running wingers became the order of the day. As both teams swayed though, it was the Tigers that made the breakthrough and poor defence saw Toby Flood make too many yards before Leicester were able to switch the ball wide, leading to an easy first try by Logovii Mulipola that was converted very well from a difficult angle by ex Newcastle Falcons fly half Toby Flood.

In times of old, Ulster may have crumbled under the daunting pressure that was a big occasion but responded very well, as Paddy Jackson carried his impressive form with some world class kicking from the hand to give Ulster good field position. Ulster continued to knock on the proverbial door, and it was Jackson who finally provided the breakthrough, a cross field kick worthy of any highlight reel, and a wonderfully deft take by Tommy Bowe over on the far side to get the team in white right back into it. Jackson knocked over a difficult penalty to put Ulster on terms.

So far none of the 14,000 fans at Ravenhill had been anywhere near disappointed as an end to end game entertained the masses in what had been a perfect Heineken Cup encounter, Toby Flood put Leicester back ahead via the boot, trading penalties with Paddy Jackson who levelled the scoring, and then just before half time the young Irish outhalf gave Ulster the lead going into the interval, a huge psychological boost for the team that knew they were just forty minutes away from a huge victory.

As the second half started the key word was pressure. Pressure for Ulster to deliver, pressure not to make silly mistakes, pressure not to somehow slip up. Paddy Jackson thought that he had a dream start to the second half, sprinting nearly 90m to score what would have been surely one of the tries of the season, but failed to hear the referees whistle as he was narrowly said to have been offside, a huge disappointment for the fly half and for Ulster as it would have given the fifteen men out on the Ravenhill pitch some considerable breathing space. Toby Flood thwacked over the resulting penalty via the offside call and the game was level again.

This was turning point of Ulster’s game, and maybe when we look back on it at the end of the season perhaps the turning point of the campaign itself. Jackson put Ulster back ahead via the boot, and finally it looked like that Anscombe’s passionate team had the will to go on and finish off the Tigers and that's exactly what started to take place. Jordan Crane was binned for Leicester and Toby Flood missed a huge kick as Ulster started to dominate in the scrum through Tom Court. When another Jackson penalty went over for 19-13, finally it looked like it would be yet another case of Tiger taming in Belfast, and it was confirmed as Jackson slotted yet another kick to give Ulster an eleven point cushion.

Despite the earlier desire of both teams, they effectively started to settle for what they had or there abouts, Owen Williams trying a drop goal to get Leicester back within losing bonus point range, but his effort bounced off the post as the Tigers knew that the solitary point may prove crucial at the end of the group. Ulster may have felt slightly disappointed as they gave away one last penalty that Williams did successfully convert, but that's the only thing they would have been aggrieved about as the referee blew the full time whistle and Ulster ran out victors and started their Heineken Cup campaign in the best way possible.

So after weeks of criticism about Paddy Jackson, it’s time for people to eat their own words. The lad successfully almost single handily guided Ulster to a win in Swansea over the Ospreys and his mammoth contribution against Leicester Tigers showed us that with patience and understanding you can see what a fantastic player he is, the skills in the package : he can kick, tackle, pass well and make decent line breaks, therefore he does have the potential to go incredibly far in the green jersey of Ireland.

In all focussing on the two matches, it has to be said, it couldn't have went much better. The Ulstermen showed great determination and grit against both opposition's, coming back from a tough deficit against the Ospreys and not succumbing to the pressure of the occasion against the Leicester Tigers. With the opening few games of the season producing poor results, this was the time for Ulster to stand up, step and deliver, and they did it with consummate skill and great attitude. Mark Anscombe will definitely be pleased, the Ulstermen can match the big boys and can be a European powerhouse.

Is it too early to get carried away ? Perhaps so, but with Montpellier at the weekend I’m still smiling and I’m pretty sure anyone in the nine counties of the province and any other Ulster fan round the globe will be....

SUFTUM

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.

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