Monday, January 04, 2016

What lies ahead for Ulster Rugby

by Kristian Ross

Kristian Ross column

It’s a wet, windy afternoon at Ravenhill. The Prom is packed and David turns to me and says “If we win every home match until the end of the season, we are guaranteed a home semi-final”. Fast forward eighty minutes and Ulster Rugby have been humbled, Munster have come away with the bragging rights for the second consecutive time and ended a five game losing streak easing the pressure on Anthony Foley.

If you were to associate a word with the current situation at the Kingspan Stadium it would be ‘inconsistency’. After two back to back wins over four time European Cup winners Stade Toulousain, the Ulsterman scraped past a tough Connacht side at The Sportsground before returning to Belfast to lose their second home match since September. It was the first time that Les Kiss’s men had lost in the PRO12 since May 2014, but it was another stark reminder that whilst the performances in the Champions Cup last month were incredibly clinical, Ulster still aren’t quite there yet.

It must be noted that the side are producing some excellent young talent, the form of Stuart McCloskey already providing him with a place in the pre Six Nations squad under the watchful eye of Joe Schmidt. Nick Williams will be a loss once he leaves for Cardiff Blues in summer, but many have said that his performances have been hit and miss in the last two seasons. Paddy Jackson is slowly progressing into a competent out half, but despite his excellent kicking out of hand, his late penalty miss at the weekend shows why he is still second fiddle to outgoing Leinster man that is Ian Madigan.

Saturday’s showing once again alleviated concerns among the faithful that going into a triple header of Champions Cup matches that Ulster would have to seriously dig deep if they are to make the quarter finals of the competition. Two wins over Oyonnax may be enough to see them through, but a win over Saracens in their own back yard would be all the more so sweet.

It’s hasn’t been the perfect start to 2016 for Rory Best’s team, but now really is the time to stand up and be counted. Five months left of the season, eleven rounds of the PRO12 and a possible trip to England or France in March. However once more it’s a case of Ulster Rugby ditching the tag of the nearly men and going once step further…..

@Kristian7Ross - 21, Geordie, part time journalist and Irish Rugby fan.

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