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Ulster- Catherine Switzer

Guinness PRO12 Editor

19 Oct 2012


Catherine went to her first Ulster game in 2002 and was an instant convert. She loves the atmosphere at Ravenhill but her best Ulster moment is David Humphrey’s last minute drop goal in Swansea to win the competition in 2006 – the best moment of her sporting life!

We all love rugby. It's why we watch the games; it's why we look at websites like this. But sometimes things happen to remind us that it is just a game and nothing more.

Ulster had a great start to the season, opening with a home win against Glasgow before coming back to defeat Ospreys in Swansea. At Ravenhill on 14 September, they beat Munster by a single point after a titanic match. The players celebrated like they had won a trophy, and at the time I thought what a psychological boost the result would be for them.

Less than 24 hours later, Nevin Spence, his brother Graham and their father Noel, died in an accident on their family farm outside Hillsborough.

As a fan, you see young players coming through. You see them develop, maybe making a debut from the bench, getting their first start, perhaps putting in a few good performances or even scoring a try. You watch them and hope they'll fulfill their promise. You never think you'll wake up one Sunday morning and hear on the radio that they have died in such dreadful circumstances.

Nevin Spence was one player who looked like he could play at the highest level. Nevin was immensely strong for such a young man, powerful in the tackle and a strong runner with the ball. He was fearless and absolutely committed. He always gave 100 percent on the pitch. I loved watching him play.

The loss to the Spence family of Nevin, Graham and Noel is too great to contemplate. The Ulster players have lost a popular teammate and friend.

It is to their credit that their return to rugby resulted in a seven-try destruction of Cardiff Blues. Afterwards, Chris Henry commented that "I think if you ask any player, he was certainly out there with us". The following week they held Connacht scoreless at Ravenhill while putting 25 points on the board themselves. Not a vintage performance, but one that emphasized the team’s determination.

As a result, after five games, Ulster remain unbeaten, apparently the only team in Europe with that distinction. Mark Anscombe's policy of picking players on form seems to be paying dividends. Established internationals must work to maintain their form and place in the team, while young players are getting the game time that will help them develop.

Anscombe's rotation policy is developing a squad rather than an established XV and one of the impressive things about the results so far is that Ulster have yet to field a full-strength side. The Irish internationals have only played bit parts so far and Ruan Pienaar only returned from his summer with South Africa in early October. The development of genuine squad depth and competition for places can only be good for Ulster’s future.

For the rest of the season, the players will take to the field with “NS” embroidered onto their shirts. I’m sure, if they do end up with some silverware at the end of the season, they will be quick to dedicate it to Nevin Spence. Whatever happens, this is not a season that any Ulster fan will forget.

Biggest surprise so far? Connacht’s 34-6 win against Leinster
Most valuable player so far this season? Jared Payne – class and experience at full back in a very young back line
Overall season prediction for your side? Play-Offs – from there it’s a lottery
Other predictions? (Tommy Bowe to score his 50th competition try before Christmas
Who's going to win the RaboDirect PRO12? Leinster