Tag Archives: Craig Gilroy

Pressure is on Ulster

South African Waltzing Matilda

Stefan Terblanche attacks during Ulster's 22-16 win over Munster in the quarter-finals. (c) Sean Mulligan.

This is completely new territory for Ulster. Their first Heineken Cup semi-final since 1999, when they famously went on to win the tournament. More importantly, Ulster are the clear favourites for tomorrow. It’s a position that they haven’t had to deal with in any of their big games this season so far. How Ulster cope with that tag could have a telling effect on the outcome of the clash with Edinburgh.

Let’s take a closer look at Ulster’s three most important wins this season. All the way back in November, Brian McLaughlin’s side opened their H-Cup campaign with a hard-fought 16-11 win over Clermont in Ravenhill. A loss there would obviously have had disastrous effects. Coming into that game, all the pre-match talk had been about Clermont’s power and pace – Rougerie, Byrne, Bonnaire and Parra. It’s worth remembering that Ulster were viewed slightly differently as a team back then.

While, the pressure was most certainly not off Ulster, no one would have been greatly surprised to see Ulster lose. Despite Clermont winning the set-piece battle and edging the possession/territory stakes, Ulster pulled off a confidence-boosting victory. Their now trademark aggressive defence was led manfully by Stephen Ferris and Ian Humphreys’ try came from an incisive counter-attack following a Clermont knock-on in the Ulster half.

Heineken Cup Q Final April 2012 141

Ulster's defence has been a strength. In this photo, Stephen Ferris is typically bursting up ahead of the defensive line. (c) Alan06.

The next key result was the 41-7 mauling of Leicester, again at Ravenhill. This was another match where Ulster weren’t viewed as definite favourites. The Tigers were still pushing hard for a quarter-final spot at that stage. Once again, Ulster were second-best at the set piece, and were narrowly shaded in terms of territory and possession, yet they still managed to tear the Tigers apart.  As with the Clermont game, Ulster’s defence shut down a Leicester side who are easily the top try-scorers in the Premiership. We’ll come back to Ulster’s attacking performance that day.

So, to the quarter-final win in Thomond Park. It’s fair to say that Munster were the narrow favourites for the majority of fans and bookies. The home side had a whooping 72% possession and 79% territory, but Ulster again came out on top. While Munster’s attacking play was very limited, it’s hard to emphasize Ulster’s phenomenal defensive effort enough. Their try, from inside their own half, was a mixture of Craig Gilroy’s ability with ball in hand and Munster’s unacceptably poor tackling.

The major point is that Ulster’s three biggest wins of the season came in matches where they were slight underdogs and didn’t expect to dominate possession (nor did they). Against Edinburgh tomorrow, both of these aspects will be reversed. Encouragingly, Ulster have strong leaders in the likes of Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, Rory Best and John Afoa. Still, it will be intriguing to see how McLaughlin and his charges handle the expectation. This won’t be a game where the opposition will have long spells of possession and Ulster can simply batter them with their aggressive defence.

Ulster's lineout copy

Muller and his pack will expect to provide quality possession to Pienaar at 9. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

We go back to that glorious win over Leicester for the attacking template that Ulster should look to use. The first try that day was sheer excellence. It was kick-started inside Ulster’s half as two passes put Wannenburg in space out wide on the right. The South African’s offload was followed by Trimble’s before the move was slightly halted. Following a few patient phases, Ferris’ burst put Ulster back on the front foot and Trimble finished in the corner.

That’s Ulster at their best. One or two direct boshes in tight (Trimble, Tuohy, Muller etc. run at Laidlaw!) followed swiftly by long passes into a wide channel. As pointed on Whiff of Cordite, Ulster’s 9-10-12 axis are all lovely passers of the ball, and that doesn’t change with the selection of Paddy Jackson at 10. As the lads highlight, that Gilroy try vs. Munster is another fine example. Trimble up the middle, then two long passes (Humphreys, that’s an absolute beauty!) to the wide channel. While the 21-year-old isn’t going to finish like that every time, it still allows Ulster to play to their strengths.

Ulster’s pack looks slightly stronger than Edinburgh’s, although with John Afoa missing, Edinburgh will expect to get on top in the scrum. Even without Chris Henry, Ulster’s forwards should be able to provide Pienaar and Jackson with a steady share of quality possession. If Ulster can manage the added pressure of favouritism, retain their disruptive defensive style and unleash their most effective attacking patterns then they’re a banker to get to the Heineken Cup final. Once there, they will return to the role of underdogs against Clermont or Leinster. As we’ve seen before, that’s a position which suits them.

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Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan, Sean Mulligan, Alan06.

Heineken Cup Highlights

Leinster

Sean O'Brien and Leinster were very impressive during their 34-3 win over the Blues on Saturday. (c) Ken Bohane.

Leinster sent out a title warning with their comprehensive 34-3 win over the Cardiff Blues at the Aviva on Saturday. The first half in particular showed just how sharp Joe Schmidt’s side can be in attack, with some gorgeous tries. Leinster may be slightly unhappy to have spent the majority of the second half defending, but they did so impressively. They now face a trip to Bordeaux to take on Clermont on the 29th of April in what should be a thrilling encounter.

Ulster overcame Munster in Thomond Park on Sunday, 22-16. Most of the damage was done in the opening 30 minutes as Ulster raced into a 19-0 lead thanks to some Munster indiscipline and a scintillating individual try by Craig Gilroy. The home side replied with a Simon Zebo try and 11 points from ROG. However, despite completely dominating possession and territory, Munster failed to really trouble the Ulster defence. Brian McLaughlin’s side move on to a semi-final against Edinburgh at the Aviva on the 28th of April.

Leinster vs. Blues highlights:

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Munster vs. Ulster highlights:

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Photo courtesy: Ken Bohane.

RaboDirect Round-Up

PRO12 Round 14 Matches

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Leinster 42-8 Treviso 

Thursday 9th February @ The RDS

Leinster

Shane Jennings and Richardt Strauss helped Leinster to a win over Treviso at the RDS. (c) Ken Bohane.

Leinster lead the PRO12 by ten points after their fourth try-scoring bonus point win of the season. You can read the full match report on the Treviso game here. The Italians gave Leinster a tough battle in the first-half, but in the end tries from Ian Madigan, Richardt Strauss, Isa Nacewa, John Cooney and Fionn Carr allowed Joe Schmidt’s side to pull well clear. Man of the Match Nacewa added 17 points from the tee as part of a truly complete individual performance.

Carr, Madigan and Shane Jennings all had strong showings while the young centre partnership of Collie O’Shea and Brendan Macken, 21 and 20 respectively, gave plenty of promising signs. With eight games left before the PRO12 play-offs, Leinster continue to look good for a home quarter-final. Next up, they welcome the 7th-placed Scarlets to the RDS on Friday .

Here’s the highlights of the Leinster vs. Treviso game:

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Ulster 30-12 Dragons

Friday 10th February @ Ravenhill

Ulster move up to 5th in the table after their fourth consecutive bonus point win at Ravenhill. Crucially, Brian McLaughlin’s men are now only 2 points behind 4th-placed Munster, although the southern province do have a game in hand. Friday night’s win didn’t see Ulster dominate but they still had far too much for a poor Dragons side. Get the full match report here. Tries from Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar, Craig Gilroy and Stefan Terblanche did the damage for Ulster. Pienaar added 10 points with the boot.

The second try, started and finished by Pienaar, showed Ulster at their best with the ball flashing through 10 pairs of hands as they attacked from inside their own half. It’s well worth a look below. That passage of play will have been particularly pleasing for Brian McLaughlin in a week that brought the public revelation of Ulster’s long-standing decision not to renew his contract as coach for next season. McLaughlin remains focused on the job though, and Ulster’s play-off push continues away to the Cardiff Blues on Friday.

Here’s the four Ulster tries against the Dragons:

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Cardiff Blues 22-15 Connacht

Friday 10th February @ Cardiff Arms Park

The Scrum Collapses

Connacht lost to the Blues in Cardiff. (c) Sum_of_Marc.

In their first match since the historic 9-8 win over Harlequins last month, Connacht reverted to old habits as they failed to take several try-scoring opportunities in Cardiff. Tries from Tiernan O’Halloran and Dave Moore, as well as a conversion and penalty from the boot of Niall O’Connor, weren’t enough to get a win against the Blues. However, the losing bonus point gained through Moore’s late try sees Connacht move up a place in the PRO12 table.

O’Halloran put in another promising display on the wing, scoring one and setting up the other try. Coach Eric Elwood will have felt a familiar frustration though as Connacht failed to finish off some good breaks throughout the game. On Saturday, the western province host Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground. Elwood will be keen to ensure his side don’t go back on a run of losses. Connacht sit 10th in the table now, with Edinburgh just 5 points ahead in 9th. A few wins in the remainder of the season will be the target.

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Aironi vs. Munster

Postponed

Rugby Snow

Ireland vs. France wasn't the only fixture disrupted because of the cold weather last weekend. (c) Olivier Pechenet.

Munster’s game in northern Italy was postponed due to the freezing weather in the region. Aironi’s Stadio Zaffanella was heavily covered with snow all week, forcing the game to be rescheduled. This fixture will now take place on the 11th of March.

Glasgow Warriors’ win over the Scarlets on Thursday sees them jump above Munster in the table. Sitting 4th, Munster do have a game in hand. Despite, the disruption to their schedule, Tony McGahan has refocused his side’s attention to Saturday, when Munster travel to Italy to take on Benneton Treviso.

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Here’s the latest PRO12 table:

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Photos courtesy:  Ken Bohane, Olivier Pechenet, Sum_of_Marc.

Dragons Fail to Fire in Ulster Rain

Match Report

Ulster 30-12 Newport-Gwent Dragons

Friday 11th February @ Ravenhill

Pienaar

Ruan Pienaar scored a try as well as kicking 10 points for Ulster. (c) Ken Bohane.

Ulster kept their PRO12 play-off push on course with a bonus point win over an extremely limited Dragons side on Friday night. In what was a week of disorder at the province, with the public revelation of the long-standing decision not to renew Brian McLaughlin’s contract as coach, Ulster will be happy with the five points gained on a wet night at Ravenhill. This Dragons team was blunt in attack and has definite concentration issues. Despite prolonged spells of possession, the Welsh region never looked like manufacturing a try-scoring opportunity.

That said, the Dragons’ start to the game was lively. Ex-Wales U20 international outhalf Jason Tovey gave his side the lead with a long-range penalty after Craig Gilroy failed to release the tackled player. Ruan Pienaar had the chance to draw Ulster level with a penalty of his own soon after but was wide to the right from 40 metres out.

Tovey’s kicking from hand was poor all day, and it was from his kick directly into touch that Ulster scored the opening try. From just outside the Dragons’ 22, hooker Andy Kyriacou hit Robbie Diack coming short at the front of the lineout and after juggling the ball, the South African No.8 went through Jamie Smith’s tackle to touch down. From the right-hand touchline, Pienaar was narrowly off target to the left.

Ulster then scored almost directly from the Dragons’ restart with a try that had McLaughlin’s fingerprints all over it. McLaughlin has always encouraged his charges to play with freedom and that’s exactly what Ulster did. From inside their own half, the ball swept through ten sets of hands, starting and finishing with Ruan Pienaar. In between, Gilroy beat two mean and Willie Faloon offloaded off the deck for one of the best tries in the PRO12 so far this season. Pienaar added the gloss with the conversion from under the posts.

Ulster’s indiscipline allowed the Dragons to stay in touch through two Tovey penalties. First, Lewis Stevenson grabbed the arm of Adam Jones while in the air at a lineout. Gilroy was the culprit several minutes later as he entered a ruck from the side. Needless penalties, as the Dragons attack was completely toothless. A strong scrum from Ulster then resulted in Nathan Williams dropping his bind. From the penalty, Pienaar extended the Ulster lead back out to 15-9 before half-time.

Tuohy

Dan Tuohy (5) was involved in some big collisions. (c) Fabio Beretta.

With the rain starting to sheet down, the opening ten minutes of the second-half became loose and scrappy, ending with another silly penalty against Ulster. Paddy McAllister, just on the pitch, didn’t roll away after tackling, and Tovey knocked over the easy three-pointer. However, the Dragons’ lack of concentration struck again as Ulster scored immediately from their own restart.

The Welsh side failed to get under Ian Humphreys’ hanging drop-off and Ian Whitten pounced on the bouncing ball. The centre offloaded to Mike McComish and swiftly recycled ball allowed Humphreys’ skip pass to send Gilroy over in the right corner. The winger finished the move with a strong fend on Martyn Thomas. Pienaar was wide to the left again from the tee.

The Dragons were given an early opportunity to get themselves back into the game when Faloon was sent to the bin following Ulster’s repeated infringements at the breakdown. However, the Dragons’ subsequent attack was lateral and failed to take advantage of the extra man. Dan Tuohy put in some big hits as Ulster defended strongly.

Faloon’s return didn’t halt the Dragons’ favourable amount of possession, but time and again the Welsh side lost their concentration in good positions. Two promising lineouts in the Ulster 22 both brought knock-ons at the tail of the maul. A yellow card to Whitten for a stupid slap-down at ruck-time gave the Dragons yet another chance out of touch inside the Ulster 22. This time referee Carlo Damasco pinged them for obstruction.

With Ulster looking for the fourth try that would secure a crucial bonus point, a penalty on the halfway line with two minutes remaining looked like the perfect opportunity to kick to the corner. But captain John Afoa made a strange decision to go for goal, and Pienaar duly obliged, banging over the three points from 40 metres out. Ulster got their chance at the death though, and took it well.

After a knock-on by Robert Sidoli, Nevin Spence was first to the loose ball and his offload to Ali Birch on halfway looked to have sent replacement Ali Birch over. However, the substitute back-row was hauled down just 5 metres out. After a few phases close to the breakdown, the ball was sent out to Humphreys and he put Stefan Terblanche through a massive hole in the Dragons’ defence. Pienaar completed the scoring with the last kick of the game. This win means Ulster move up to 5th in the PRO12 table.

Ulster: 15. Adam D’Arcy (Danielli, 57), 14. Craig Gilroy, 13. Ian Whitten, 12. Nevin Spence, 11. Stefan Terblanche, 10. Ian Humphreys (Marshall, 64), 9. Ruan Pienaar, 8. Robbie Diack, 7. Willie Faloon (Birch, 64), 6. Mike McComish, 5. Dan Tuohy, 4. Lewis Stevenson (Barker, 73), 3. John Afoa (capt.), 2. Andy Kyriacou (Brady, 55), 1. Callum Black (McAllister, 48).                                        Subs: 16. Nigel Brady, 17. Paddy McAllister, 18. Adam Macklin, 19. Timothy Barker, 20. Alistair Birch, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Mike Allen, 23. Simon Danielli.

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Photos courtesy:  Ken Bohane, Fabio Beretta.