Pro 12 Season Preview – Ulster

Pro 12 Season Preview – Ulster

The league became the second focus for Ulster last season as they managed to reach the giddy heights of the Heineken Final. It will be interesting to see whether this will be their same focus this year, or whether their squad has now developed to allow them to battle on two fronts.

The first part of the season will be crucial for Ulster as they may well be without some of their star players in the likes of the outstanding Ruan Pienaar who could be facing international call ups for the Four Nations tournament. Added to that Ulster now only have the inexperienced Jackson as their starting out half after the move of Humphries, then they could be left seriously short on experience in their half back parings.

And what has been proven over the years in this league, getting a good start is vital to any play off prospects and I fear for this Ulster side being so short on experience in such key positions, that they won’t get the start that’s needed.

The loss of Wannenburg may come back to hurt them also, as he’s been one of their standout performers in the past couple of seasons. The fact that Ulster will have to face chunks of this season without their South African contingent I think might actually become a good thing for this side. They need to start cultivating more of their own home grown leaders other than Ferris and Best who are often missing with Ireland. The fact that they’ve seemingly relied on their Non Irish Qualified players I feel has had a negative effect on their squad depth of influential home grown players. Ulster fans will hope that this is not the case this season.

They do have many young, up and coming players such as Jackson, Gilroy and Fitzpatrick to look to, but it’s whether or not they have depth across the whole squad to compete, and I for one don’t think they do.

I think the return of players such as Bowe will make them more potent in attack, and players such as Henry and Tuohy will give them grunt up front, but that the disruption and inexperience of their halfbacks will ultimately lead to Ulster falling just short of being competitive enough to make the playoffs.

I think the obstacles they may face at the start of the season will put them on the back foot in the league and while I expect them to finish in the Pro 12 strongly, they will just have too much ground to make up on other sides. Although as last season, I feel they will be caught up in the playoff race until the last handful of matches.

My players to watch: Paddy Jackson, Craig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe and Declan Fitzpatrick 

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4 thoughts on “Pro 12 Season Preview – Ulster

  1. Eoin says:

    “The fact that Ulster will have to face chunks of this season without their South African contingent” – not sure they will? Terreblanche was only ever a loan player, Wannenburg is off to Castres, Muller will still be available and is unlikely to get picked by the Boks, Robbie Diack won’t be going anywhere either, and Rob Herring is equally surplus to requirements back home, so that only leaves them missing Pienaar (altho that is a massive hole to fill). Overall, I think you’re right that the halfback pairing will define Ulster’s season, plus what style of game new DoR Anscombe want them to play

    • hmm aye, good point that. Could have rephrased to it to facing a season without their SA contingent I suppose… 🙂

      Think half back parings are going to decide the fate of a lot of teams in the Pro 12 this season, there aren’t all that many strong parings around at the moment to be honest. Be interesting to see how different sides cope with it.

  2. Rava says:

    “Ulster now only have the inexperienced Jackson as their starting out half after the move of Humphries”

    I think you forget how much experience Niall O’Connor has at HC level and “A” International. He might not have the flair of Humphries but in the past he did a job and his year with Connacht will have done him no harm.
    Also Paul Marshall has bags of experience at scrum-half and although he won’t displace Pienaar any time soon, he was considered good enough to be included in the International set up at the end of last year.

    • I thought O’Connor wasn’t even first choice at Connacht though? Seems a step down in a signing for Ulster for me for what they need at 10, but I’ll be happy for him to prove me wrong 🙂

      And Marshall may have got an international call up but he’s still pretty inexperienced (having not had much game time I guess due to Pienaar starting ahead of him obvs). Just think the pressure situation of 9 and 10 is so much that he and Jackson might not always cope or not cope as well as is needed to be a top top side in the league. Will be very interesting to see how they go!

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