Andrew Richardson is 32 years old, married with kids and works in Project Management. He owns a dog and this is his first blog. All this falls into insignificance when stood, with the obligatory beer, in the terrace singing ‘Stand up for the Ulstermen!’
I am not originally from Ulster, but in fact England. I live, work and play in Ulster and have done for the last twelve years. Friday night at Ravers is now a Richardson Family tradition. My family, from here, now are ardent rugby fans. So why Ulster? Simply the club. The Ulster set-up is fantastic. The appointment of the successful Brian McLaughlin into the academy means more home grown players will get the opportunity to play for the province.
The Backroom staff are all about supporting the supporters, most notably Sarah Sherry. Sparky sharing on Twitter and building atmosphere. I am sure the team, and club would agree, Ulster supporters make the club. When Ravenhill gets going, Belfast listens.
Last season was arguably the most successful year since the infamous European Cup win in 1999. Ravers was turned into a fortress, and a successful European run got us into a final at Twickenham. Yes, unfortunately Leinster turned up, but the team did us all proud. There were many notable points, Stefan Terblanche scoring on his debut, and becoming an instant fan favourite; John Afoa ripping Munster apart up front and in the loose and winning Man of the Match; Stephen Ferris bouncing off Aironi from 22m out. But my favourite moment from last year was easily Craig Gilroy from half way against Munster, and into the corner. I shouted and shouted (pleaded) for him to pass inside where Stef Terblanche was running into space, but he ignored me, beat Munster’s Simon Zebo and scored. Simply brilliant team build up, and true heads-up rugby.
Tommy Bowe is back in the (new) shirt and we all expect huge things from him this year. With the RaboDirect PRO12 opener against Glasgow Warriors I do see him playing a pivotal role. Glasgow will be no push overs and the monster Alistair Kellogg, over 2 metres tall, will be hard to put down. I suspect he [Tommy Bowe] may become our top try scorer and, I’m sure, be a hit with the female fans.
In the RaboDirect PRO12 this year Ulster WILL finish in the Play-Offs. Ruan Pienaar’s successful inclusion in the Springboks for the England Tests will make him reasonably match fit for pre-season. The pairing of Henry and Ferris – so successful in defence and attack last year – will be crucial. Jared Payne is taking part in the pre-season training so all
Ulster fans will welcome seeing him demonstrate what he was brought to Ravers to do. I remember seeing the banners ‘Here comes the Payne!’
Game of the year next season will be Ulster v Ospreys. 2011/12 winners with Tommy Bowe, although he missed the Final. Big hits and attacking rugby guaranteed.
Ulster’s signing of the year? Mark Anscombe. The Kiwi has a proven ability with youth squads and full elite squads. A forward specialist will get the most of our dominating size in the pack. Welcome to Belfast, Mark.