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Caullie Lug 16/17

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Ulster: 45 (24) Edinburgh Rugby: 20 (17)

It’s becoming a real struggle to come up with something original to say about all this.

There comes a time during any long-running fiasco when one wonders whether it is actually possible for things to get much worse.  In the case of most major public sector capital projects, for example, the answer is usually ‘yes’.  As I type, I am looking out of my office window to see tram contractors digging up a length of concrete foundations that were built there only a matter of weeks ago.  As the Embra men slumped to their seventh straight reverse this weekend at Ravenhill, and that by the sort of humiliating margin that has become par for the course this season, one wondered whether senior figures from the now defunct Transport Initiatives Edinburgh had in fact found new employment in the Murrayfield area. 

I suppose a mere 24-17 deficit at the break gave the Embra tifosi a bit of hope that things might be on the up, particularly at what is, on this year’s form, one of the tougher away venues in the Rabo.  And Brown’s early try, coupled with Hunter’s first penalty putting the visitors 10-3 up at the end of the first quarter, did represent a genunely good start.  In about the only crumb of comfort on a dismal evening, ‘Schooldays’ also managed to cross for a second later in the half.  But, as at last weekend’s reverse against the Scarlets, that hope proved to be misplaced.

The scrummage, which had looked like a potential strength early in the season, again struggled, the Gunners once again conceding a penalty try at scrum time.  After that, it was pretty much all one way traffic as last year’s Heineken finalists showed the side they’d beaten in the semis a clean pair of heels.  We have an inexperienced playmaker who has tremendous potential, but who is being given virtually no help from his pack and who seems to have been instructed to kick ball away in as aimless a fashion as possible.  That is not a recipe for success.

I’m a glass half full kind of guy and when I look at this squad, I see arguably the most strength in depth this club has had in the professional era.  I see a number of fine young talents who are blossoming or who will soon do so, given the right support.  I see more punters coming through the door and an off-field operation that has a pretty good handle on marketing their product.  I also see an extra £1 million plus of budget having come through the door this season.  All that should lead to regular if not perennial qualification for the Heineken knock-out stages and Rabo playoffs.

So why are we going backwards on the park?  Why, when we have the depth to compete on two fronts, are we now so abject on both?  Why are players who got us to the Heineken semis only last May suddenly so lacking in belief? 

The defence is a disaster and the attacking play not much better.  While bulking up the pack in order to bully the oppo (which surely must have been the thinking behind some of the personnel changes over the summer) might in theory have had an impact on the traditional Embra wide game, it looks like not only can we not run the legs off the enemy, but we can’t beast the legs off them either.

This is some way off being good enough by several orders of magnitude.  At what point does the coaching team get the dreaded 'vote of confidence' from the Board?  The clock is surely ticking.



Ulster: R Andrew; C Cochrane, J Payne, P Wallace, C Gilroy; R Pienaar, P Marshall; C Black, N Brady (capt), J Afoa, L Stevenson, N McComb, S Ferris, M McComish, R Wilson. Replacements: N Annett, R Lutton, A Macklin, R Diack, N Williams, N O’Connor, S Olding, P Nelson.

Edinburgh : G Tonks, L Jones, J Houston, J King, T Brown, G Hunter, C Leck, J Yapp, A Titterrell, W Nel, G Gilchrist, R McAlpine, S Cox (capt), R Grant, S McInally. Replacements: A Walker, A Jacobsen, L Niven, van der Westhuizen, Watson, Rees, Fife, S Visser.