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D'Arcy: Damn the statistics, Ulster have the scoring class to win trophies

The former Ulster fullback, now with Bristol, believes Mark Anscombe could yet leave the province as a cup-winning coach.

Jared Payne reflects on another gut-wrenching loss to Leinster.
Jared Payne reflects on another gut-wrenching loss to Leinster.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

A STATISTIC BEGAN to do the rounds almost a soon as the final whistle sounded at the RDS last Saturday and ended Ulster’s season.

Mark Anscombe’s men had the better of their semi final with Leinster for 60 minutes. They led 9-0 at that stage but failed to score again, losing 13-9 after Jimmy Gopperth and Ian Madigan combined. The statistic concerned Ulster’s failure to turn scoring chances into tries in the second 40 of knock-out games.

In 11 knock-out games, over the past four seasons, Ulster have scored only three tries in the second half. Two of those scores were consolations in defeats to Leinster (Dan Tuohy in 2012) and Saracens (Iain Henderson in 2013). The overall points-scoring return is low. In those 11 matches, the province averages just 14 points.

Adam D’Arcy, who featured in five of those matches for Ulster, believes claims of his former team tightening up on the big occasion are slightly harsh. He said, “Every team finds it hard to go to the RDS, score tries and beat Leinster. The Saracens [Heineken Cup defeat] was unfortunate as they lost Jared Payne so early to that red card and did well to win penalties and push them all the way.

I don’t think there is a big game hoodoo within the squad. Leinster have been responsible for four [knock-out] defeats in the last four years but Ulster have improved so much in the last couple of seasons. They broke any Leinster hoodoo by beating them twice last season and, even though they lost each time, they have been in the contest right up until the 80th minute. They have to keep putting themselves in those positions and, I feel, they will get over the line when it counts.”

My end of season review (Adam D’Arcy)

Best game: I will qualify these selections, first, by saying I have not watched each and every one of Ulster’s matches this season. Still, from the Heineken Cup and Pro12 games I have watched, the victory away to Montpellier stands out. They showed great strides by winning away in France in a big Heineken Cup match. The recent league win, by a young Ulster lads, over a pretty strong Munster team at Thomond Park was good too.

Worst game: The red cards marred crucial games against Saracens and Leinster but the 14-men performed well. I would say that league defeats to Dragons and Glasgow at the start of the season had them playing catch-up while losing 28-23 away to Cardiff was a blow to any hopes of getting a home semi-final.

Johann Muller and Andrew Trimble after the game Johann Muller consoles Ulster's Player of the Year, Andrew Trimble, at the RDS. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Best player: Andrew Trimble. He has always had the talent and physicality, and was a good attacking winger, but he translated his Ulster form to Ireland. The emergence of front rows Callum Black and Rob Herring, who has been called up to the Ireland squad, has been a big positive for Mark Anscombe.

Room to improve: Picking up the four and five pointers in the league, especially away from home, is something Leinster are great at. It is what often secures them the favourable draws and it is something Ulster can aspire to. No drastic changes are needed for next season. Ulster have World Cup winners in their squad and are making all the right moves on and off the field. As long as they keep getting themselves into the position to win games, in the closing stages, the breakthrough will hopefully come.

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