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Friday, 9 November 2018

Ulster's season so far

**Blog written by @robyneleanor300 **

Ulster’s season so far…

If you had told Ulster fans at the end of last season, going into the November break, we’d be sitting in second place with only Leinster above us we’d have bitten your hand off!
It’s no secret that Ulster went through the worst year in rugby history last year, with on and off field problems. Losing club stalwarts, Bowe, Trimble, Marshall, Black, Piutau, two head coaches and two players who’s best years were ahead of them, it didn’t look too positive at the East Belfast stadium and this season was always going to be an uphill battle...

Ulster didn’t recruit heavily this year, Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore, Will Addison and Billy Burns being the only notable recruits and Australian international Henry Speight for short term injury cover. This year we’re following Leinster’s lead and blooding our academy players. We’ve seen a lot of the young players in the pre season friendly’s and a number have made their mark on the senior squad.

Ulster opened the season with two home games against teams that finished above them last season, Scarlets and Edinburgh. Both were incredibly tight games with the hero of last season John Cooney kicking a match winning penalty at 79 and 81 minutes respectively.
Next up for Ulster was a mini tour to South Africa. I think most fans would agree, we were expecting 10 points from the two matches. Ulster ended up coming away with 7 points after failing to get a bonus point against the worst team in the league, the Southern Kings and a nail biting draw against the Cheetahs which saw Henry Speight score an 80th minute try, where he unfortunately got injured.

The main talking point from South Africa was Ulster’s discipline. Rob Herring and Alan O’Connor both saw yellow cards in the Kings game and again O’Connor saw yellow against the Cheetahs. The discipline then got worse when Matty Rea got a red card against Connacht, who got their first win in Belfast since 1960. This resulted in a four week ban after he had only just returned after a substantial knee injury.

The last two weeks there has been a marked improvement in Ulster. A bonus point win over the dragons, and a tough defensive effort against Benetton saw us finish this run of games second in our conference.
We’ve also managed a bonus point over Leicester in the Champions cup, despite a heavy defeat to Racing in Paris.

Despite 3 immediate retirements this season already in Ulster legend Chris Henry, Peter Browne and Jean Deysel, Ulster’s young guns are driving the team forward. Already this season Michael Lowry, James Hume, Angus Kernohan, Angus Curtis, Robert Balacoune and Eric O’Sullivan have all featured for the senior team and made a big impact. Michael Lowry shone against Leicester and made the most meters of any player in the first two rounds of the Champions Cup.

I think the player to watch this season will be Nick Timoney. He was promoted to a senior contract after a stellar first season with Ulster as an academy player last season. He has played 9 out of 10 games for Ulster this season and adds a different dynamic to that of a typical back rower. He has the typical strength of a number 8, but has the speed that will challenge any winger and also has an eye for the try line, scoring a last minute try against Connacht with speed that any winger would be proud of.

Ulster by no means are a finished article, but with the likes of Jacob Stockdale, Iain Henderson and John Cooney combining with the fresh faces, it looks like things are finally on the up for Ulster.

**Blog written by @robyneleanor300 **

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