The three key strengths of Ulster

Paul Eddison
15 May 2019

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The race for a place in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series in Conference B was a four-horse race for two spots that seemed certain to go down to the wire.

With Leinster way out in front, it is a credit to Ulster that they wrapped up a place with a week to spare thanks to six wins in their last seven games since February.

They have since added a home victory over Connacht, avenging a pair of losses to their provincial rivals, in the quarter-final.

Ahead of a trip to Glasgow Warriors, along with Leinster the only team to beat them in 2019, Ulster looked to be approaching top form.

So where have they made the difference to go on this run?

BREAKDOWN MASTERS

It should come as little surprise that a team with a rejuvenated Marcell Coetzee and bolstered by the arrival of Jordi Murphy should be such a force at ruck-time.

Whether it is at No.8 or on the flank, Coetzee has made his presence felt all season with Murphy and Sean Reidy, not to mention Iain Henderson, always a threat for a turnover.

That Ulster are second in the entire Guinness PRO14 in turnovers averaging seven a game (only Cardiff Blues have more) is logical.

Just as impressive is the other side of the ball where Ulster’s ruck success is third in the league with 97.1 percent success.

As they prepare to play a team as lethal as Glasgow Warriors, their ability to challenge for the ball when they do not have possession will be crucial.

If they can also deny Glasgow turnover ball, then Dan McFarland’s side have every chance to securing a return to the Scottish city for a place in the final.

SCRUM FLOURISHING

McFarland’s arrival was always intended to help the Ulster set-piece, and that has been evident in this campaign with 95.2 percent success on their own scrum, good for third in the league.

What is most impressive about that is that Ulster are not reliant on outside help in their prop ranks, with only Marty Moore having come into the squad.

It is Ulster’s young core who have really impressed with 23-year-old Eric O’Sullivan and 24-year-old Ross Kane starting the win over Connacht.

Add in Tom O’Toole, just 20, who has made 15 appearances in the league this season, and you have a trio of up-and-coming props playing an important part in Ulster’s success in that area.

Jack McGrath and Gareth Milasinovich will increase the depth next season, but there is already plenty to work with up front for McFarland.

ATTACKING FLAIR

From an attacking perspective, Ulster were a little way behind the likes of Leinster and Glasgow Warriors but still a real threat with ball in hand.

Only Leinster made more carries than Ulster over the course of the season, while they were in the top four for metres made (443 a game), breaks (9.6) and defenders beaten (23.5).

While there is a lot of talent in the backline, it is still an impressive return for a team with a new man running the show at fly-half in Billy Burns, and also lost the not inconsiderable talent of Charles Piutau at full-back and saw Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe retire.

Jacob Stockdale’s class has obviously helped fill that void, but just as impressive have been the performances of the likes of Michael Lowry, Robert Balocoune and Rob Lyttle in the back three.

Add in Will Addison, outstanding since joining from Sale even if he is currently injured, and there is a lot to like about Ulster’s backline.

They will need to be good against Glasgow, but on the artificial surface at Scotstoun they should have the opportunity to put on a show.


The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

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