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Ulster aim to follow up on Ospreys win

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Jim Neilly | 15:31 UK time, Friday, 18 September 2009

Last season brought unprecedented success for Irish rugby, with a Grand Slam, Heineken Cup, Magners League and a first ever Churchill Cup win rounding off a great year.

But with Leinster and Munster taking the European and Celtic titles respectively and contributing significantly to the Grand Slam and Churchill Cup victories, Ulster face the most challenging of seasons.

Ulster celebrated a 20-16 win over the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium

With Munster and Leinster bounding ahead in terms of playing success and financial strength, Ulster simply cannot be contemplating, let alone settling for, a situation whereby they are scrabbling around with the Dragons and Connacht at the bottom of the Magners League table.

Munster and Leinster's financial strength has come from playing success and, with a number of Ulster players out of contract at the end of this season, it is crucial that they be retained.

Ulster's new coach Brian McLoughlin was, understandably, encouraged by pre-season wins against Newcastle, Viadana, and significantly, away to Worcester, but was less than enamoured with an insipid display in the Magners' opener against the Dragons.

It was a different story against an Ospreys side bulging with internationals with Ulster producing one of their best away performances in the professional era. But is it going to be a one-off as was the case with the victory over Munster last season at Thomond Park?

A season without Rory Best is hard to contemplate, yet new signing Andy Kyriacou and stalwart Nigel Brady have been filling the hooker role with success and with Stephen Ferris, denied a Lions Test series because of a minor injury, back in harness against Edinburgh this weekend, and a new-look Ravenhill to catch the eye, we are back to standing up for the Ulstermen.

Let me know what you think. What do you feel would be an acceptable season for Ulster?

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