BBC BLOGS - Jim Neilly

Archives for October 2009

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Jim Neilly | 16:40 UK time, Thursday, 29 October 2009

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Gutsy Ulster play a stormer

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Jim Neilly | 18:21 UK time, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

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Didn't Ulster do well? A deserved win over Leinster has taken them to the top of the Magners League for the first time in four years.

The biggest crowd of the season to date, the worst weather imaginable, and the gutsiest display for some time all combined to make it a memorable night.

Ulster and Leinster played in stormy conditions at Ravenhill.jpg

Without meaning to carp, it might all have been different had the conditions been better, as Leinster's multi-talented backs were presented with few opportunities to excel.

But it is the same out there for both sides!

The difference was that Ulster coped better, winning the toss and electing to play into a gale that blew straight up the Ravenhill pitch towards the War Memorial end, and the Ulster pack played controlled, percentage rugby.

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Can Ulster bounce back against Leinster?

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Jim Neilly | 16:39 UK time, Wednesday, 21 October 2009

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What a disappointment!

Having looked so good against Bath at Ravenhill , Ulster allowed a decent lead to be overhauled at Murrayfield in what was a carbon copy of the Magners League loss to Edinburgh a month earlier.

ian_humphreys_hands.jpg

I would not castigate Ian Humphreys (pictured above) for a penalty miss that would, if successful, have taken Ulster 10 points clear at the start of the second half, especially as Phil Godman had fluffed a couple of pretty simple efforts coming up to half-time.

Humphreys, looking more and more like a member of ZZ Top, has been playing well and some of his tactical kicking was superb.

Overall, however, there was little to enthuse about, Timosi Nagusa's cheeky first-half try apart. When Edinburgh made some telling replacements, they upped the intensity of their play and Ulster did not seem capable of responding as they had done the previous week when they saw off Bath's challenge.

Did Brian McLaughlin make the right calls when he changed a raft of players in the second half?

What happened to Ulster's normally efficient set pieces?

The line-out, in particular, was messy and the scrum less than dominant, meaning that the backs never got going and the considerable Ulster contingent, who were in fine voice throughout, trooped away from Scottish rugby's HQ thoroughly deflated.

To make it worse, a late penalty by Julien Dupuy snatched victory for Stade Francais in Bath, taking the French side to the top of the Pool Four table.

Ulster, who have back-to-back games against Stade in December, are not out of it in terms of a knock-out place, but a win against Edinburgh at the weekend was crucial in a tough group where only the winners are likely to progress.

Munster and Leinster both won and results elsewhere in their respective groups have left them in decent shape, although Munster's injury toll is mounting alarmingly.

So it is back to the Magners League this coming weekend and a sell-out crowd looks guaranteed at Ravenhill for the visit of Brian O'Driscoll and Co. Who will be boosted by their recent win in France. What price Ulster turning over the reigning European champions?

Result of last weekend? Definitely Connacht's win away to Montpellier in the Challenge Cup, giving Michael Bradley's men a second successive victory. The West's awake!

Are Ulster genuine contenders?

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Jim Neilly | 17:15 UK time, Sunday, 11 October 2009

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Ulster for the Heineken Cup? Now there's a thought! But let's not lose the run of ourselves just yet.

While Friday's 26-12 win over Bath evoked a lot of European memories, it was merely one step in the right direction.

I can fully understand the numerous fans who said to me in the immediate aftermath at Ravenhill, "We should have got a bonus point!"

But, I am sure, Brian McLoughlin and his coaching team would have settled, especially at just 10-6 up at the interval, for a win, irrespective of how it was achieved.

ian_humphreys.jpg

Too many penalties conceded in the first half by Ulster kept Bath in the game, though most of them could be attributed to hyper-enthusiasm on the part of an Ulster side brimming with confidence, self-belief and togetherness.

But what impressed me most, apart from a great defence and splendid tactical awareness from Ian Humphreys (pictured above), was the way in which a lighter Ulster pack gradually got the better of a bulky Bath eight in one of the best forward displays in the Heineken Cup for a few seasons.

How did you rate Ulster's display? Are they genuine contenders in Pool Four?

Irish coach Declan Kidney was a more than interested observer at Ravenhill on Friday, so who do you think will have impressed him with a view to the forthcoming November internationals and the Ireland 'A' games against Tonga and the Argentinian Jaguars?

Ferris, Wallace and Court were in the Grand Slam squad, but will Kidney be looking at guys like Humphreys, Trimble, Caldwell, Boss and the impressive Kyriacou who is Irish qualified?

So it is off to Murrayfield now and payback time against an Edinburgh side that has lost three in a row - two Magners and one Heineken.

It has been a while since Ulster won three competitive fixtures on the bounce and the last time Ulster won in a European clash in Edinburgh was almost 11 years ago when David Humphreys' side went on to win the tournament!

Is it winnable at Scottish rugby's HQ? Of course it is.

Finally, the upset of the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup?

Leinster going down at home to London Irish is up there, as is Munster's defeat at Northampton.

But the prize goes to Treviso for a remarkable 9-8 win over the French champions Perpignan, giving Italian rugby one of its brightest moments since European competition began.

Congratulazioni Treviso!

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