The Opposition View returns this week with Ulster fan Mark Purse (@rugby1968) offering his thoughts on his side ahead of the Cardiff Blues game on Saturday.
Last season was a frustrating one to say the least for Ulster with plenty of off-field distractions both in the courts and at management level. Is that all behind you as you move forward this season?
There’s still a lot of support for Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, a fair few Ulster fans believe the two lads were hounded out and have not forgiven the IRFU or Ulster though the CEO getting the shove has helped.
The coaching set up needs time, hopefully the supporters and the club will give them the two or three seasons needed to turn us around.
There have been a lot of retirements in recent months at Ulster, in a sense have they come at the right time as the province looks to the future?
Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Chris Henry retiring is a wealth of experience that can’t be replaced and when you add to that Paul Marshall and Jared Payne through injury it is huge hit to the squad.
Opportunities have arisen for the academy lads to step forward though, something which Ulster was always reluctant to do but now have no choice.
It will be a steep learning curve for the youngsters but providing supporters don’t get on their backs when it goes wrong, and it will, they’ll come through it and better for it. So whilst not ideal we still have enough senior players to guide them.
Dan MacFarland has come in and it’s been a fairly solid start to the season. What have you made of him in his first few months?
I have a belief that at times Ulster’s heads dropped very easily and it appeared that the players just gave up. Dan has come in and said from day one that the players will fight for every inch and from what I’ve seen so far it appears to be the case.
Supporters don’t expect their team to win every game but they do expect their team to fit to the end and Dan seems to have instilled that into the players. So far so good.
A few new faces arrived at the Kingspan in the off-season, who has stood out amongst the new signings?
Will Addison is just pure class, looks to have so much time on the ball, can play comfortably at centre and full back and also looked good during the Autumn Internationals. He also has plenty of leadership qualities and with all the retirees he has filled that void as well.
What have you made of the season generally so far, and which players have stood out?
Better than expected. I thought we’d have lost against the Scarlets at Ravenhill and probably have lost against the Cheetahs.
As for stand out players apart from Will Addison, Michael Lowry has impressed even though he is a 10 playing 15 and the front three of Eric O’Sullivan, Adam McBurney and Tom O’Toole could well be the mainstay of our pack for the next 10 years.
Finally, prediction for Saturday?
Two teams who are very similar both on and off the pitch, with new senior management and coaches in place.
If it was at the CAP i’d say Cardiff but since it’s at Ravenhill with 15,000 screaming mad Ulster folk screaming at the officials and with all our internationals back I think we’ll just sneak it, but I can see your team getting a LBP. All the best for Saturday and for the rest of the season.
Cheers to Mark for answering the questions and here’s hoping it’s at least a better contest than last week’s Cardiff Blues game!