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News

What is coming over the hill??

by UAFC Editor on Tue Jul 31, 2012 9:51 pm
Rating:
  • 1 vote
(1 vote)


Is it a monster?? Deckard weighs in on his thoughts about the season to come

It is a brave man who makes strong predictions in sport at the best of times – I write this the day after the Open, when apparently as Scott came down the back 9, his odds at an online bookie moved in to 50-1 on (while apparently on one betting market, you could have backed Els at 469-1 to win outright at one stage...) – but even given that, I find myself at more of a loss than usual when I try to cast my mind forward to Ulster’s next season. The more I look back at last season, the rummer it seems!

While I think that it was overall a decent season, I think we are inclined to over-estimate the progress made – what looms largest in our minds is the unexpected but glorious knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup, and a decent performance in the final before ultimately being outgunned by one of the best, if not the best, club side around. But look back a month or two in the diary, and you soon run into some performances and results that range from the indifferent, to the downright awful. I was interested to read on the UAFC the report from the season-ticket holders’ event, where apparently Shane Logan described Ulster’s HEC performance as 8/10, but the league performance as just 5/10. I found it a bit surprising the first time I read it – but on reflection it feels about right. And, while nobody doubts Brian McLaughlin’s integrity or work ethic, the decision to replace him seems more reasonable, if one takes a cold hard look at the season as a whole.

So what to expect from the next season? I was interested to see that most respondents on a UAFC poll thought that Ulster’s matchday squad would be stronger next season than the season past. And I agree – overall, and in spite of a relative lack of ‘marquee’ signings compared with recent seasons, with Bowe, Wilson and Payne in the mix, the squad looks better. As regards the refreshed coaching ticket, well, who knows – Doak coaxed some nice stuff out of our backs at times last year, and Bell had our defence admirably tight by the end of the season; it remains to be seen what Anscombe brings. He certainly made the rights noises at the recent ‘Meet Ansombe’ event, and if he can deliver a higher fundamental level of handling skills through the squad, with more sources of danger out wide in this year’s squad, he might just oversee a nice marriage of a grizzled, streetwise pack with flair-packed footballers outside...

The problem, of course, is that in professional sport, progress has to be relative as well as absolute – so even if Ulster under Anscombe make forward strides next year, this will only translate to success in the respective competitions if they do so relatively more than their competitors.

With that in mind, then, how are Ulster likely to fare? What would count as success?

Looking at our closest neighbours, Leinster once again look likely to be the team to beat in the RaboDirect Pro 12. They have assembled a formidable squad that blends experience and youth, under an outstanding head coach, and seemingly have an endless pipeline of talented players coming through their schools and underage systems. It’s hard to identify obvious weaknesses in their squad, or to imagine them doing notably less well than they have in the last few years. As for Munster, long the top dogs in Ireland, they have been passed out by Leinster some years since, and are facing a rebuilding phase under a new coach. It’s hard to know what to expect next year; their squad is less eye-catching than Leinster’s, and while they have finally got some talented younger players breaking through, the elder statesmen upon whom they have relied so much are another year older.

Looking across the water, the Welsh clubs appear to be in challenging times, facing varying degrees of financial discomfort and player loss. Even in the ‘good’ times, the bigger Welsh clubs struggled to make an impact at the top table in Europe, although they have proved adept at scrambling and adapting, and bringing younger players through. All things being equal, however, one would imagine that in their more straitened circumstances, the challenge will be all the greater for them in the year to come. The Scottish clubs are likely once again to be capable of delivering an occasional bloody nose, but probably lack the strength in depth to do a whole lot more, and the Italians are still on their learning curve.

What then would represent a successful season for Ulster? When I started out to write this article, I was going over in my mind what position in the league and Heineken Cup outcome would feel like progress – but actually the more I think about it, the more inclined I am to think in terms of a 2-3 year timeline. I think that currently in the RaboDirect Pro 12, Leinster are by some distance the high water mark, and will likely continue to be so for the forseeable future. A longer-term aim should be to catch up with Leinster – that is something that will require not just a significant step up in skills and performance levels throughout the entire current squad, but also a lot of changes in the schools and academy systems in Ulster – this is likely an aspiration over a 5-10 year period. In the meantime, I think there is a spot up for grabs, just out the front of the chasing pack behind Leinster, and I think that it should be Ulster’s aim over the next couple of seasons to cement it for themselves – nudging ahead of the likes of Munster, the Ospreys and Cardiff.

A successful season would therefore be one which is a step towards achieving this goal – so a second place finish (at a minimum a play-off spot) in the league, no home losses in the Heineken Cup, with a creditable performance in the knock-out stages (it’s hard to be more specific than this in Europe, because outside the pools, every club is in the lap of the gods – so you can’t say that it would be a failure to go out in the quarter-final, if Ulster end up away to Toulouse or Leinster; in that case it’s about the performance).

I agree with Logan, Ulster’s league performance last year was unacceptable; and while the Heineken Cup provides the truest benchmark of a club’s top-end performance, I think that a successful league campaign is crucial, in order to develop a club’s squad and, importantly, to build a winning mindset. Let’s see...

 


 

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UAFC Editor has been a member since Thu May 03, 2012 8:02 am. He/She has posted a total of 18 News item(s) for a total of 27 post(s).

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Comments

User avatar
Setanta
Thu Aug 02, 2012 7:46 pm

Spot on analysis as it totally maps to my own! Doesn't mean it's correct of course only that it's logical. Big unknown quantity to bring it down or raise it up will be injuries to ourselves and others. Enjoyed the article; big change to the ther silly season stuff; keep up the good work.


bazzaj
Mon Aug 20, 2012 3:39 pm

Good article Deckard that got me thinking which is an achievement in itself. I have become a little Leinster obsessive over the last few years, envying both their set up and style of play.If we want to over take them I do not think that by imitating their blueprint for success will be the way, as no one can ever do it better than them. They surpassed the Munster legacy by reinventing their own game in their own style and I think this is what we must look to do.Yes we can learn aspects of what Leinster do best but if we try and copy their every inititative then we can only ever be second best to them.For a start you cant make a silk purse out of a sows ear and we do have the most valuable commodity-Good players.Hopefully MA is the man with the plan.


User avatar
Deckard
Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:40 am

Thanks bazzaj - I share your admiration for Leinster, in fact I'm drafting a piece having a look across at Leinster and thinking about what, if anything, other teams can learn from them


bazzaj
Tue Aug 28, 2012 11:50 am

I will be interested to read your findings Deckard.
In my opinion the one thing teams can learn from them is empowering their players to play what is in front of them and to play without fear or reprisals of making a mistake.
Reading MAs interview he mentions that he will be looking to implement this into our set up which was music to my ears.


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