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Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview

By ChrisC
January 19 2015

Out of the Frying Pan.                                                            A couple of weeks back I watched a very uncomfortable David Humphreys being interviewed after another abject display by his Gloucester team.    

As I watched my mind drifted (it does that!!) to occasions when, presumably like the Ulster and Ireland legend, I gazed over the metaphorical  fence at what seemed verdant sunlit uplands compared to the stygian gloom of my current employment where the day to day problems of the job weighed heavily. My employees were truculent, customers difficult, my employers overly demanding and uncaring, the ashen taste of discontent dried my mouth. 

A couple of times I hopped over the fence as riches were dangled on the other side and mostly I did so without regret but there were times when I got it horribly wrong and before many months had passed was thinking “what have I done?” How lovely was that pleasantly warm frying pan when compared to the white heat of the fire I was experiencing now? 

I wonder if David Humphreys is suffering a similar level of buyer’s remorse at swopping the Emerald Isle for the mud of the Forest of Dean? 

His old side; Ulster, came into these final rounds of the new European competition comfortably placed in fourth spot in the Guinness PRO 12 while his new charges are just ninth in the Aviva Premiership after a last gasp victory over Saracens. 

Ulster had lost their last three matches away from Ravenhill before thankfully getting a four point win over Treviso at the Stadio Monigo in the PRO12 and so must have travelled down to Toulon last weekend with a spring in their step but if they did then they must have set off back to Belfast very flat footed having endured a 60 – 22, eight try hammering by Toulon that saw them exit this year’s competition in spite, extraordinarily, coming back with a try bonus point. 

Tigers meanwhile, after a horribly patchy, injury hit, season when they sometimes scaled the heights only, having spied redemption, to drop back into the slough of despond with another lacklustre offering such as that at Quins immediately prior to the arrival of Scarlets at Welford Road when they had a six try victory over the sorely depleted visitors although they should be disappointed at themselves conceding three tries in the process. 

Ulster didn’t actually play that badly and Mr Leighton-Hodges certainly seemed to be persuaded that the majority of the 50/50 calls should go the way of the hosts as well as the crucial decisions but Toulon were spectacular and of course having won were not as overtly hostile post match as when they lose, in which circumstances they need to learn manners to go alongside their rugby skills. 

Ulster picked up what looked to be significant injuries to both Paddy Jackson and Louis Ludik who look unlikely to be available for selection for Tigers’ visit to Ravenhill. 

It’s an interesting conundrum for Ulster and their coach; Neil Doak, who’s keeping the seat warm pending the arrival of Les Kiss after the World Cup, as to whether, with the need to secure qualification from the PRO12 for next season’s European competition not yet a foregone conclusion and the looming Six Nations, which will be the key issue for the Province’s paymasters the IRFU, whether pragmatism or nationalism will be the prime motivator for next weekend’s team selection. 

Arguably Ulster have much bigger fish to fry in the Belfast skillet than the beating of Tigers who only have an outside chance of qualifying for the competition’s knock out stages as a best second place team. 

There is then a degree of rugby manichaeanism in play for the hosts. 

Tigers on the other hand must do their exophthalmic best to not only win but secure all five available points in the process. 

The twenty-three year old Andrew Warwick played well I thought in an Ulster pack that was under the cosh down in the South of France and may get the start again over the more experienced international ex Worcester loose-head Callum Black who’s claimed five out of the last seven starts to face one of the Tigers’ behemoths; Mulipola or Balmain and who knows even Dan Cole may be fit, he’s reported as being close to another return to the fray. In any event either of the potential Ulster starters will have their hands full as was the case against Castrogiovanni who took time off from being petulant and swearing to playing some good stuff last Saturday. 

Veteran Rory Best will, I’d guess, be in pre Six Nations purdah which would indicate another start for young Rob Herring who has a solitary cap to his name making his way to Ulster from his native South Africa via London Irish and Western Province.  Like Warwick he carried well and was manful in defence but he’ll have to do it all over again as I think he’ll be preferred to John Andrew, who’s made just one appearance in this his debut senior season, to face Tom Youngs who will probably get  Tigers’ #2 shirt and who, like Ghiraldini, will then be off on Six Nations duty. 

Youngs showed his centre ball carrying credentials when he made one of his “super-sub” appearances against Scarlets and ran a lovely supporting line to take a try from some sibling cooperation. 

With South African Wiehann Herbst sidelined with a hamstring problem it’ll be between Kiwi Bronson Ross and veteran international tight-head Declan Fitzpatrick, who joined the Province way back in 2005.  My guess is that Fitzpatrick will be deployed to bring his undoubted experience to try and combat the massive threat of Marcos Ayerza. 

It’s looking like a long afternoon for the Ulster front row especially as Dan Tuohy is also injured nursing a thumb injury that’s forecast as keeping out for a couple of months so his grunt will be missed with twenty-two year old Alan O’Connor likely to be on parade again alongside another South African; Franco Van der  Merwe who’s been pretty much ever present since his arrival in Belfast this season from Super Rugby outfit the Lions. 

The Ulster line out had a real struggle against Toulon and it’s hard to see it being otherwise against the Tigers’ machine which was in fine fettle against the Scarlets with Tom Croft looking much more himself for the first hour with some great work at the set piece and, one faux pas excepted, put in a superb defensive display. Given his recent injury problems it’s tempting to give Gibson the start but with the special talents Croft brings on balance I’d like to see him get another start. 

In the back-row for Ulster in France I was very impressed with Mike McComish, who moved from Connacht and hasn’t had much game time but this week stepped into the blind-side spot in place of Clive Ross who’d shuffled across to the open-side while South African born but Ireland international Robbie Diack who was on the bench. The indefatigable Roger Wilson, late of Northampton, was on parade at #8 but the visiting breakaways came off distinctly second best. 

Whether Diack rejoins Wilson and the impressive McComish with his powerful carrying keeps his place will depend on the Province’s priorities.  

With Croft coming back to form and Crane having put in his most impressive performance of the season both combining with Salvi’s consistent excellence it’s hard to see them not exerting a degree of superiority behind what I see as likely to be a dominant Tigers’ front five. 

Of course we then come to problem areas for both teams – the backs. 

When the world must have seemed to be crumbling around him Springbok Ruan Pienaar was magnificent in Toulon.  All the experience gleaned from his eighty-five appearances for his country was clear to see. He remained calm, accomplished and never stopped trying, even when the Ulster horse had not only bolted but was last seen near Paris! 

Ben Youngs relished the additional space he was afforded by his rampaging pack last Friday and made the most of it with some unhurried kicking and accurate, quick passes and he’ll be on duty again opposite the sparkling Springbok who may once again have to cope with a pack under pressure in every department. 

Paddy Jackson picked up a dislocated elbow that appears to be counting him out of the Six Nations as well as this weekend’s encounter.  Presumably ex Tiger Ian Humphreys will be at fly-half for the hosts and Tigers’ speedy breakaways will be targeting his enduring defensive frailty.  As when he was at Tigers he gets moved out of the defensive firing line when possible but, as the similarly fragile George Ford found out, sometimes you are just where you don’t want to be and if, as I think, Tigers get more than their fair share of front foot possession from their pack the visitors may make some headway through the 10/12 channel. 

Freddie Burns, one daft kick aside, had a very good outing against the Scarlets where, like his half back partner, he took advantage of the extra space to produce a bravura display, looking sure-footed from the tee in an accomplished and confident performance.  Tigers need a victory at Ravenhill and to get five tries in the process if their increasingly Quixotic ambitions of progress are to have any chance of being realised and in my book are more likely to get tries from the mind, hands and boot of Burns than the more stolid Williams and so I’d stick with Burns. 

In the centres Ulster’s Stuart Olding was another who picked up an elbow injury and is a doubt for next Saturday so could be replaced by Luke Marshall who withdrew sick from the home fixture against Connacht and hasn’t been seen since.  With Andrew Trimble still out injured that leaves Darren Cave, likely to be in Ireland’s Six Nations’ squad, and young Stuart McCloskey who started at Welford Road in the reverse fixture, so it may well be him again come Saturday, at least he’ll not have Manu Tuilagi to think about this time.  

Cave made his 150th appearance for his Province last weekend and he two Ulster centres will also have plenty of experience of playing as a unit and are specialists in their craft whereas pending the reappearance of Tuilagi Goneva continues to be pressed into reluctant service in Tigers’ outside centre spot. 

In spite of the convincing score line the depleted Scarlets really shouldn’t have been able to notch up three tries and while Bai lacks nothing in commitment in both attack and defence some of Tigers’ defensive shape was quite alarming at times allowing the visiting backs to make far too many incursions over the Tigers’ gain line. 

If Anthony Allen is still injured then it will, perforce, be the Fijian firebrands in the centre and with the sterile attacking strategy being pursued by Tigers at least Bai has the bulk to give the defenders problems but without Allen, and if there are as many missed tackles as there were against Scarlets, Tigers may once again be leaking tries in the wide channels. 

It was like a breath of spring air to see the speed and precision of the Miles Benjamin try last weekend which eschewed the preoccupation with solitary sentinels running into opposition defenders instead seeking space.  Adam Thompstone played a full part in this try. Indeed all afternoon he was industrious in defence and threatening in attack. Even if Scully is fit I think Thompstone should keep his place not least as it would give Scully a few more weeks to recover and maybe even an LV= Cup outing to complete his rehab but mostly because Thompstone deserves it. 

On the other wing Benjamin scored his try with another display of muscular aggression and pace.  He makes me twitch in defence but I wonder how much he’d benefit from a stable defensive structure around him and not feeling he’s the “only man on the island”? 

Louis Ludik, another South African in his first season with Ulster, having arrived from Agen, was also in the wars at Toulon when he suffered a broken rib so he’ll be out for a while and as Mike Allen came off with a leg injury it looks like all change on the Ulster wings. 

I can’t imagine the IRFU would be very happy at the prospect of Craig Gilroy and Tommy Bowe being exposed in what, for Ulster, is a match solely about pride. If that is the prevailing view then maybe Ricky Andrew will get his second start of the season to add the nine minutes he endured as a replacement last Saturday.  Never seen the lad play other than in that vignette so can’t say any more about him really. 

With Neil Doag’s cupboard looking a bit bare more international players may have to be used than the governing body feels desirable and  Kiwi Jared Payne, who joined Ulster from the Auckland Blues via Northland in 2011, may well be on duty as it would be just his third appearance since picking up a foot injury in Ireland’s match against South Africa back in the Autumn Internationals and the need for the superbly talented Payne to get match time may supersede the Union’s desire to protect their investment and provide the hosts with a potent attacking threat. 

Either Payne or Under 23 international the twenty-two year old Peter Nelson could be on the wing or at fullback. 

Tigers for their part will probably have the rumoured departee; Matt Tait in their #15 shirt.  He played well against Scarlets, had plenty of room to run the ball back, although I never feel that sure he’ll actually get anywhere and when he does most often he and the ball go to ground with the whole move stultifying. He does though look impressive when coming into the attacking line almost like an international centre! 

Never an easy gig going to Ravenhill and Ulster won’t want the old enemy to put one over on them. 

While injuries to key personnel and priorities are certain to affect the selection process the players selected will perform with their customary fervour when the English appear at their citadel. 

Tigers may never have a better chance of victory at Ravenhill and having Mr Gauzere for the second consecutive week they should be fully aware of his mores and predilections.

The stadium will be as hot as a pan that’s just delivered an Ulster Fry but if Tigers produce a performance such as those against Bath and Toulon at Welford Road then they may just do it.  Whether it’ll be enough is open to doubt. 

But if Tigers play as they did at Parc y Scarlets, the Recreation Ground and the Stoop they’ll be in the fire and out of Europe for sure.

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Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview (IP Logged)
19/01/2015 19:01
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2015:01:26:21:44:15 by Tiggs.

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Duncan Keene (IP Logged)
20/01/2015 07:46
Spot on Chris, Thankyou.

I could see any result, as you say will Ulster rest players? I think they have game limits on their Ireland squad players so would expect them to but are they allowed to use euro games for the rest?

They, as we would be, will be smarting from the 60 points conceded. If they keep us out (of scoring tries) for 50 mins then our heads may drop seeing the bonus point fade away. If we can get two first half tries then they may be the ones to fade. If we can really get on top then that 60 points from last week may weigh heavy on their minds.

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Yorkie (IP Logged)
20/01/2015 11:42
Thanks Chris.

Will be interesting to see if Cockerill deals the deck the same as he did for Scarlets. Take the risk of leaving some big guns on the bench to come on with 20/30 minutes left to score the tries against a tired team. Or try to crush Ulster from the get go.

About time we won in Belfast and we won't get a better opportunity than this imvho.

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
jamesroberts (IP Logged)
20/01/2015 18:07
At least without Allen we shall at least be an attacking threat . Bai was a 100% improvement - lets hope he carries on in the same way !

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Rich W (IP Logged)
20/01/2015 18:43
Thanks Chris. Can't argue with any of that.

I happen to think the absence of Allen hurts us a lot given how unstructured we were last week. Just have to hope we dominate possession.


Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Stopsy (IP Logged)
20/01/2015 19:08
Thanks Chris, how can we lose now Ant isn't playing winking smiley

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
ChrisC (IP Logged)
21/01/2015 10:30
Guess so Mike.

I wonder if James has considered entering the Tour de France?

He must have mighty powerful legs from pedalling his anti-Allen agenda for so long!

I happen to think the absence of Allen hurts us a lot given how unstructured we were last week. Just have to hope we dominate possession.

Maybe james doesn't see any of that otherwise why ignore it?

It's part of our sport that you have to defend - great if we score six tries just a bit tricky if the other side score eight.

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Rich W (IP Logged)
21/01/2015 11:01
Well agreed - I suppose some think the Barbarian traddition of scoring one more than them is still viable. I'm afraid I don't.

I think teams need a defensive captain and not just anyone can do that. I have no real idea who it was last week but they clearly weren't able to adapt to keep the line in shape at times.


Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Tiggs (IP Logged)
21/01/2015 12:21
The stats in respect of results, and tries conceded, and tries scored, with Allen playing, and when not, are very compelling IMO.
We simply win more games, concede less tries, and score more tries, when he plays.
Therefore, to state we would be better without him seems to be ill-informed at best, IMO.
Unless you want to watch "pretty" rugby, without caring whether Tigers win, or lose ?

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Yorkie (IP Logged)
21/01/2015 12:57
At least without Allen we shall at least be an attacking threat . Bai was a 100% improvement - lets hope he carries on in the same way !

Whilst that might be true, our defence was shocking.

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Rich W (IP Logged)
21/01/2015 13:06
I don't detect that it's about wanting to watch pretty rugby in James' case - it's just personal antipathy to [a] certain player[s].

I have to say I liked the look of Bai - he certainly looked keen - and I'd like to see him play some more but it's going to be a while until we are better with him than with AA.


Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Yorkie (IP Logged)
21/01/2015 13:09
Allen at 12, Bai at 13 (when Manu out) and Goneva on the wing.

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Rich W (IP Logged)
21/01/2015 13:13
Possibly - though obviously Lower Manu comes into that equation.


Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
jamesroberts (IP Logged)
22/01/2015 08:53
Wasn't Friday night the only time we have registered a 4 try bonus point in Europe this Season ? I thought we might have lost that game judging by the rubbish I read in this section .

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Rich W (IP Logged)
22/01/2015 09:19
Really, just how do you come to that conclusion?

You do make yourself sound foolish sometimes.

Against a team with a better forward pack our defensive weakness would have been disastrous.

By the way - you haven't mentioned how Marcos, being so over-rated, will be displaced by Logo lately. Nothing to say?


Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
jamesroberts (IP Logged)
22/01/2015 09:25
and wasn't Allen the one who dropped the ball when over the try line at Scarlets - a real morale boost for the rest of the Team that was !

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Rich W (IP Logged)
22/01/2015 09:37
What is the relevance of that?

Lots of guys dropped the ball - both physically and metaphorically that night - but what exactly, has that got to do with our defensive weakness in his absence last week?

Players make errors.

So nothing on Marcos?


Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
ChrisC (IP Logged)
22/01/2015 09:58
and wasn't Allen the one who dropped the ball when over the try line at Scarlets - a real morale boost for the rest of the Team that was !.

Well in the pantheon of nasty, spiteful comments by you directed at Allen that one's right up there.

Actually I think he was short of the line when he dropped the pass in what was the first couple of minutes of his return from a six week absence through injury.

Shame on you.

Now would you like me to sift through the archives and(picking a player at random - Twelvetrees say) and point out all his failures?

Even if you did I'd refuse as I wouldn't want to sink to your level of spite.

As I say shame on you.

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
22/01/2015 12:51
Spite and personal sniping seem to be the order of the current days hereabouts, sadly

Happily your report, Chris, doesn't stoop there, but is as outstanding as ever

If Ulster do rest players I'm not sure that would be best for us; the others are not performing as well as they have and may be both stale and distracted by the priorities for the club and country as listed, whereas young bucks with passion and a point to prove could well be fully focused

''It [the NHS] will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it'' Aneurin Bevan

Are you faithfull?

Re: Ulster v Tigers ERCC Match Preview
Yorkie (IP Logged)
22/01/2015 12:55
Fair point osv.

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