View from the Hill

Five in a row

Friday night was indeed a strange affair.  For the third night this season Ulster played poorly and won, for the fourth time the sun shone on the faithful, for the fifth time on the trot Ulster claimed the winning points in the league, for the sixth time the URSC tent was crowded, for the seventh match in a row Edinburgh were beaten in the league and for dear knows how many times Ulster failed to secure the try bonus point when it was there for the taking.  Mind you, this time last year we were playing like this and losing.  As for the match itself, it was a mixed bag.  Fastest out of the blocks, Ulster’s big mobile pack and assured back play threatened to blow Edinburgh out of sight before half time.  But then the generous side of our nature kicked in, and as the sun set behind the old stand there were those around me who muttered, ‘It will be a total disgrace if we lose this!’

Marshall atoned for his poor form in  Italy, Trimble played like a man possessed and O’Connor got the back line moving.  Muller made the lineout his own, and Caldwell behaved himself impeccably!  The referee, who tended to mumble with his hands rather than remonstrate – more of a Gallic shrug than Italian flamboyance – made a good start in the Magners.  It was also good to see alert calls coming in from the touchline, some of which annoyed the home crowd, but we can’t have it both ways.  A friend of mine remarked later that the penalty against Ferris for coming in from the side was Byzantine.  Constantinople here we come?

O’Connor’s place kicking was one wave short of a shipwreck and it will need some work to tweak his compass.  But just when things were getting shaky in the third quarter, McLaughlin sent in the heavy cavalry – Best, Botha and Wallenburg.  Now, on a night when we had the Ravens running out in Munster, that says a lot about the quality of this squad.

Ulster worked hard for their points, with some good flowing rugby, however too often lost structure after three or four phases.  One notable exception was the passage of play leading up to Cave’s try, with O’Connor directing play well.  Edinburgh on the other hand capitalised on Ulster’s errors, especially in the second quarter when, with the game by the scruff of the neck, Ulster’s careless kicks and ill judged passes let the Scots back into the game.

On Monday morning I suspect the teacher’s report will say, ‘Shows lots of potential but must concentrate more and cut out the careless mistakes’.   And Messers Emerick, Marshall and O’Connor will probably be sent to the naughty corner for showing Tom Visser the way to the try line.  With Connacht in their current form we will have to play a much more consistent game next Saturday if we are not to watch the sun go down on Ulster’s best start to the Magners League since the Championship win in 2005/06.