Ulster

k.o. time: 7:05 pm

18 October, 2002

Kingspan Stadium

Spectators: 11,000

Cardiff
referee
Rob Dickson
7
/10
A fair performance from Dickson, showing his usual tenedency to offer cheap penalties to the home team and to weigh up the balance with cheap penalties to the away team at the end of the game.
weather
Cold and clear
worth annoying the wife factor
4
/10
our man of the match
Dan McShane
general comment

Shocking game totally devoid of speed played as strolling pace. Cardiff's support play and running onto the ball were non-existant and Ulster were totally devoid of any ideas and ambition behind the scrum other than to kick the leather off it. Dull.

scorers
Iestyn Harris (2)
our choice for next week

vs Pontypridd

k.o. time: 5:30 pm

26 October, 2002

Sardis Road

15
Gethin Rhys Williams
14
Nick Walne
13
Jamie Robinson
12
Pieter Muller
11
Craig Morgan
10
Iestyn Harris
9
Ryan Powell
8
Emyr Lewis
7
Martyn Williams
6
Dan McShane
5
John Tait
4
Heino Senekal
3
Ken Fourie
2
Greg Woods
1
Tim Payne

Cardiff's pack was predictably once more put to the sword in a one sided game at Ravenhill. Struggling for any sort of possession, the bois spent virtually the entire game on the back foot making tackles and to their credit, despite taking a real pasting up front, they conceded only one try throughout the 80 minutes. That they did so well was as much due to their tenacious tackling as to the total lack of ambition and poor skill levels of an Ulster backline that will struggle to win another game this season. This was the battle of the wooden spooners.

In a curiously sudued Ravenhill (the organisers were reduced to pumping applause through a hhhuuuugggee sound system to create some sort of atmosphere), we were treated to an evening of arial ping pong. A steady stream of possession was repeatedly hoofed down field by the expensively assembled Ulsterman, and Cardiff lacked the organisational whit and intellegence to run the ball back at them. Individual work rates were good, but collectively the orgnisation was a shambles.

At the lineout, Martyn Williams became the sole ball winner as Cardiff lacked a game plan to bring any pace in to the game. When we were crying out for some short lineouts to give quick ball to the back line they studiously persisted with using Williams at the tail. Jones rarely had a ball thrown in his direction and Senekal was comprehesivly outmuscled by Blair at the front of the lineout.

In the scrum, they faired little better. The combination of Kempson (SA International), Sexton (ex-Canterbury hooker) and the excellent Fitzpatrick was too much for the lightweight Cardiff front row to combat. One more Fourie struggled manfully playing out of position and during the second half even managed to hold his own, but there's no sign of continued improvement. Payne looked like someone who failed to make the Bristol 1st XV as he was comprehensively outplayed by his South African opponent. Let's hope the step down in class next week offers us more hope!

In the second row, Pain and Longwell dominated the lineout and always looked likely to pinch ball from the physically smaller Cardiff pairing. At least in this area it was bois against men. Around the park, Senekal was the best second row on the pitch, but if you can't securing ball from set pieces, what's the point? In Wales, we seem to have an obsession with mobility and ball handling and forget that rugby is about keeping hold of the ball. Without enough bulk to compete at the set piece, you can have the most mobile pack in the world and you still won't see the ball.

For the second week in a row, our back row was comprehensively outplayed by the opposition. Brosnihan (the SA international) was everywhere and on more than one occasion musceld Williams off the ball. McWhirter (all 6'5" of him) played the pick up and drive that Solomon's had planned and drove deep into Cardiff's diminutive back row. The third choice number 8 was far too mobile for him around the pitch - hence Ulster's inabilty to turn all that possession into tries - but in the tight, there was only one victor. Somehow, the pick up and drive game deserted Ulster as soon as they got anywhere near the Cardiff line, and we can thank Doak for a dire performance at scrum half for keeping the points down.

Whilst the Ulstermen enjoyed a huge superiority up front, their back line was lacking in any penetration. Humphrey's kicking abilities are well documented, but his passing is slow beyond comparison. With his centres lying so deep, Cardiff were able to take them down well behind the gain line time after time. When Ulster did try torun the ball at Cardiff, they often found themsleves going backwards - or at best lateral - despite wave after wave of possession. Meet Ulster's physical presence up front and they have nothing to offer behind other than an outside half who consistently kicks the ball away. Biarritz and Northampton have nothing to fear from either of these two teams.

The game started positively for Cardiff as they dominated the possession in the first 10 minutes. From good lineout play Cardiff chose to drive and maul the ball straight through the opposition pack, trying to gain the psychological edge. Once this had taken its course the ball was flung to the wide men to offer pace but never could they get the better of the Kiwi at Outside Centre for Ulster. Once a ruck was formed then Cardiff were clueless and never throughout the whole game looked like winning fast ball, meaning that the early attacks were thwarted.

There were two possible try scoring opportunities for Cardiff during this period but their inability to capitalise led to thier downfall. A blind side move against a flat Ulster defensive line saw Jamie Robinson place a well weighted kick to the corner, only to see the ball agonisingly hit the corner flag. Had the kick been a little less strong, or the bounce a little more favourable, the Nick Walne was on hand for the easy try. The bounce of the ball was not with Cardiff.

The second chance was again from quick ruck ball that led to a catalogue of errors in the Ulster 22 as it was their full back who this time let the ball bounce. Walne was on hand to snap up the loose ball from the chip ahead and Ulster were penalised for killing the ball at the ensuing ruck. Smith had the presence of mind to take the quick tap penalty from just five metres out but, despite there seeming to be an enormous gap ahead of him, Harris chose to pass when the break himself was the better option. His pass ended up in the "hands" of Appleyard who, naturally, lost the ball in contact. This was right on the Ulster line and any sort of recylcing of that ball would have led to a try. Instead, Dickson was sporting enough to penalise the Ulster back line for not being on side and Harris was to kick the three points.

From this point on Cardiff were never in the game. In attack they had the urgency of a Robin Reliant in the rain and so slow was the recylcing of any ruck ball that Nick Walne may as well have stayed in the hotel. The rest of the first half belonged to Ulster as they monotonously bullied their way forward.

Ulster's tactics were highly predictable once they had the ball in hand. From broken ruck play the enormous Irish back row were driving through Cardiff's tackling with ease, right up until they reached the Cardiff try line.

From one such drive on the Cardiff line Dickson awarded Ulster a set scrum five metres out, claiming that Cardiff had carried the ball over the dead ball line and not the other way around. Five or six scrums ensued with enormous pressure coming on the weakest part of Cardiff's game, or so we thought. The way that our bois stood out was fantastic, with Dickson ignoring the penalty for the Ulster front row standing up. Instead, the obvious home penalty was awarded and Ulster scored three more.

From then on it was Rourke's Drift for Cardiff as wave after wave of forward attacks forced Cardiff back into their 22. Only the horrendously slow play of the Ulster half backs prevented the score board racking up with plenty of tries, but one came for Ulster as finally an overlap was worked to put the home team out of sight.

At half time Cardiff knew that they were out of the game, unless an early blitz could get them back into the game. The pace that they strolled out onto the pitch said it all, despite the announcer claiming Ulster were 40 minutes away from glory! From glory!?!?! by beating this mostly legarthic and idealess attacking unit? Trur our guys would tackle thier heart out, but neither team looked anything like scoring a try.

Ulster's plan was to ship the ball to Humphreys for him to kick Cardiff into the corners. Ulster were guaranteed possession through the excellent back five of their pack, and the ball was never passed to the centres. This gameplan was based upon the hope that Cardiff would lose ball in the line out on their own throw, and this plan worked a treat.

Cardiff had no plan in the second half, no plan capable of breaking down the excellent defence of the Kiwi in the centre and no plan capable of containing the Ulster back row's disruption of quick ruck ball. Smith was was off the pace and unable to control his back line, Harris was marked out of the game.

As Ulster punted the ball into the Cardiff 22, Cardiff kicked the ball back and time after time all we were watching was rugby tennis. God! this was boring!!!! Yet the home fans (all 10,250 of them) loved it to bits!! They were happy to see the up and unders, they were happy to see the aimless kicking from both teams, we would have been happier watching Emmerdale.

Cardiff were under huge pressure in their half of the pitch and were unable to break free. The back line was contained and the forwards were never able to match their opponents. The speed of the ball from the break down made Brett Davey look like Nigel Walker and the game was degenerating into boredom.

The Ulster plan was working as Cardiff rarely got out of their own 22 and when they did it was mostly down the good work of Dan McShane who replaced Crazy at number 8. Here was a player with vigour and effort who really had a go at Ulster. Despite always being on the back foot from a retreating scrum he managed to gain quick ball and break through the gain line from scrums. He made tow or three half breaks that his colleagues were unable to read or keep up with meaning that his good work was lost with slow recycling of the ball.

An early tackle on a Cardiff back whilst one such inspired counter-attack was under way allowed Harris to kick his solitary penalty of the half and to register Cardiff's only score of the second half. From then on each attack was easily snuffed out by good Ulster defence or the unforced error was made, allowing Humphreys to kick the ball back into the Cardiff 22.

Twice ALP lost line out throws in his 22 as poor timing made his jumper look like David Seaman watching the ball go over his head. Only stout reslience and excellent team spirit prevented the line being broken in the second half, but Ulster and the crowd were happy to watch Humphreys kick at goal and practice his drop kicking too.

This was a game that a Cardiff team should have won. Ulster are a very poor and very boring side who are totally reliant on the kicking of Humphreys to gain them territory and points. Had he not been fit then the result could have been oh so different.

Yet for the second time in two weeks we saw any sought of fast ball snuffled by the opposition. Unlike at Newport, any turnover ball that was won by Cardiff was not used, as the back line seemed so intent on tackling that nothing else mattered. Cardiff have serious problems in the back row and the return to fitness of Emyr Lewis cannot come fast enough. Crazy left the game early (to be replaced by the excellent McShane) which could mean further injury worries, but it is the balance of the pack that is all wrong.

Foruie is a loose head, ALP is a loose head, Senekal is a blind side, Crazy is a blind side and Appleyard is a disaster area. So what can Young do? absolutely nothing because of the shambles he inherited from Joubert. Up front Cardiff are lob sided and confused, with nobody seeming to know what to do and when to do it. It may be that Young must impose Henry's POD system, but something must be done and quickly.

Our backline can win games on 40% of the ball, as long as it is quick ball. This European Cup campaign has shown that teams have worked out how to beat Cardiff easily - disrupt the scrummage so that the back row cancels out Harris, put pressure on ALP in the line out, mark Martyn Williams in the line out and slow down the ball from every Cardiff ruck.

Dai Young needs to do some training ground work on protecting the ball at the breakdown, arriving at the ruck quickly and cleaning out properly. It is the blind leading the blind. Somebody send him a video of Toulouse.

15
Gethin Rhys Williams
7
/10
Tried manfully to do something from second phase possession and spent an equal amount of time at outside half as full back. Solid in defence, apart from not being dominant when running forward to catch the high ball (he preferred to let Smith take the kick)and hedid the simple things correctly. Barely had to make a tackle all game, but his punting was an improvement.
14
Nick Walne
6
/10
Usually stuff . Rarely in the game. Big lump and underused. Never had to make a real tackle as Ulster didn't pass the ball that far. Should have been charged £7 admission.
13
Jamie Robinson
6
/10
Faultless in defence and made one or two breaks, but failed completely to link with Muller all game. Played like two strangers. Made one excellent chip to the corner in the opening minutes of the game which but for a little luck would have given Walne a simple try. Instead the kick hit the corner flag and the chance was gone.
12
Pieter Muller
8
/10
Scared the Oirishmen to death with ball in hand and never once failed to beat the first tackler. In defence, he was excellent making at least two try saving tackles and cutting down the passing movements by his defensive positions.
11
Craig Morgan
6
/10
Quiet. Had a chance to make some of those booming kicks, but looked lethargic and instead unnecessarily put his team in trouble by a charge down. Then, at the next ruck, in an example of total lack of professionalism, gave a rediculous penalty away at a ruck - a la Peter Rogers. One knock on from a bullett pass late into the game once the Ulster line had been broken stopped the seve points, but he should be appluaded for leaving his wing.
10
Iestyn Harris
6
/10
Tries all the tricks but with a back line playing like a bunch of individuals, he still lacks the leadership skills to boss the back line. With the Oirish bois charging up in defence, no one went for the obvious chip over the top, and we saw only one up and under all game. Likewise, his looped passes in the first half almost resulted in two interception tries. He had no fast ball from which to attack.
9
Richard Malcolm Smith
5
/10
Very disappointing performance lacking composure and authority. Failed to show the necessary organisation skills to direct his pack or his back line. Failed to create any sort of coherent tactical approach, and Cardiff looked rudderless. Could not organise the ball carriers, when the back line was too shallow he failed to direct as required.
8
Dan Baugh
4
/10
Looked outmuscelled again for the second week in a row. Probably took a bang in the first half which rendered him pretty ineffective throughout the game. The pick up and drive of the Ulster pack was by far their best tactic, given the minnows opposing them. A few ball carries, but rarely in the game.
7
Martyn Williams
8
/10
Despite being on the back foot throughout the game, played with real passion and determination. Terrific fitness levels with a 70m kick and chase in the dying seconds. Regulary first to the breakdown, and regularlu outmuscled and driven off the ball. Again Cardiff's best line out forward, when the ball reached him.
6
Rob Appleyard
3
/10
Well off the pace and well out of his depth. Spent most of the second half throwing punches and how he stayed on the pitch was a miracle. Maybe one excellent tackle, but lost the ball on the Ulster line in the first half, and managed to give six points away (again) - joining the breakdown in an offside position.
5
Adam Jones
4
/10
Bizarrely unused at the lineout, where Cardiff (who makes the calls when Tait's not playing?)rarely used him. Around the pitch he was huffin' and puffin' but always seemed to arrive that crucial half second late. Needs to be used more often is he's picked.
4
Heino Senekal
7
/10
Terrific fitness and work rate. Excellent work keeping out the Ulster maul, pinching balls in the tackle area and even making a few charges. Rarely used in the lineout and lacked the bulk to compete with a larger opposite number. Needs to get a game at blind side to see the best of him, but Cardiff lack an experienced second row.
3
Ken Fourie
7
/10
Another players who's work rate around the pitch is awsome. Huge tackle count - making four thunderous tackles in the first five minutes - and always in the thick of it at ruck and maul. However, once more failed to counteract the boring (in both senses of the word) of the excellent Fitzpatrick and once more shown up not be a tight head who can play at this level of the sport. This guy is definately a loose head.
2
Andrew Lewis
5
/10
Poor lineout organisation or poor throwing? On this performance it was difficiult to see, but the result was the same. At key moments in the game, Alp failed to find his jumper and as a result Humphreys continually kicked good possession away into the corners in the belief that his pack could win the ball at the ensuing lineout. This they did a little too often. In the loose, Alp was catching the kick offs and charging fearlessly into the much larger pack. Time overdue to give Woods a game, and when the front five was getting such a hammering, why didn't Young at least make one change in the pack?
1
Tim Payne
5
/10
Palpadbly outplayed by his Springbok opponent and rarely in the game. Made a few ball carries, but generally the front five lacked the muscle to compete with the big Ulster pack. Again we saw him with the ball in hand from the popped scrum half pass.