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Ulster ready to pull shutters down on long season with trip to Edinburgh

Dan McFarland’s side take on the Scots in their final game of the Rainbow Cup.

Nick Timoney has found form for Ulster.
Nick Timoney has found form for Ulster.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

SO, ONE FOR the road.

After emerging from lockdown last August, losing to Connacht in the first of their 29 games across 10 months, Ulster are finally ready to pull down the shutters on their season.

There have been five defeats to Leinster, two to Toulouse, a Pro14 semi-final win they’ll never forget, a Challenge Cup semi-final defeat that’ll forever haunt them, and now this, a dead rubber in Edinburgh they could really do without.

Overall it has been a mixed year. The spirit they showed to come from behind to defeat Edinburgh in last September’s 2019/20 semi-final was also evident in the 2020/21 regular season, when they won 14 of their 16 Pro14 fixtures.

At the very least, they deserved to be rewarded with a play-off for that. Instead they got the Rainbow Cup. If that was frustrating, Europe was worse. Three defeats from five, including harrowing losses to Gloucester in the Champions Cup, Leicester in the Challenge Cup, have blotted their copybook.

Ultimately, far too few of the games that really mattered, were won.

Today’s (v Edinburgh, 5.15pm eir Sport) doesn’t matter which is just as well as Ulster’s preparations have been badly affected by the loss of four players who have tested positive for Covid-19. Worse again, nine players have been deemed close contacts of the quartet, meaning they were unable to train ahead of the clash in Murrayfield.

Add in Ulster’s seven injuries and you can see why today’s game is little more than a box-ticking exercise.

Except for some. This will be Adam McBurney’s final game for Ulster before he moves on in the summer. Three more members of the match-day squad, Matt Faddes, Kyle McCall and Alby Mathewson, are also expected to be playing their final games for the province today.

adam-mcburney Adam McBurney on the charge. Source: Rogan Thompson/INPHO

While they will want to leave their mark, Nick Timoney will be seeking to maintain his recent excellent form.

The 25-year-old has profited from Marcell Coetzee’s mid-season departure and also from a period of reflection when he was out of the side.

“There’s been times in the past when I’ve had good runs of form and it might come and go,” said Timoney.

“I’ve been fairly happy with how I’ve gone the last while, (but) this is also the season where I’ve spent the longest period of time out of the team since making my debut.

“For a while it seemed like I was at the back of the pack.

“That period helped me a lot.

“I thought things over and after that I was more sure of my identity as a player. I maintain that it was more of a mental clarity. I’d been focused on the wrong things.

“I’m convinced now that rugby is more mindset-based, or a large part of it is how you mentally approach it. I feel like I’ve always had the same physical qualities in terms of athleticism as some of the guys who were playing for Ireland.

“I didn’t think that was holding me back so it was the mindset that was holding me back.

“Was I as confident as I could have been? Was I focusing on the right things? Was I stressing if I made a mistake I’d be dropped? That was all part of it.

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“I’m pretty relaxed in general. When it comes to rugby, when it comes to training, when it comes to prep, I’d never say I was too relaxed, but I’ve thought about being a bit more… not reckless, but just that you’d rather try and fail than not try at all.

“I’m more experienced now.

“I think if you stress too much about how you’re going to play that doesn’t get the best out of you.

“I’m 25, which should sort of be your prime.”

EDINBURGH: H Paterson; E Sau, J Johnstone, G Taylor, D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, C Shiel; B Venter, P Harrison, WP Nel; M Sykes, B Toolis; Jamie Ritchie (capt.), H Watson, B Muncaster. Replacements: M Willemse, P Schoeman, S Berghan, M Kunavula, H Morris, H Pyrgos, N Chamberlain, C Hutchison.

ULSTER: R Lyttle; M Faddes, J Hume, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; I Madigan, D Shanahan; K McCall, A McBurney, M Moore; A O’Connor, I Henderson (capt); Matthew Rea, Marcus Rea, N Timoney. Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, T O’Toole, K Treadwell, G Jones, A Mathewson, B Burns, M Lowry.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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