Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
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Payne's class at 15, clever strike plays and more Ulster talking points
Ulster must now wait on other results in Europe.

ULSTER RECORDED A 56-3 hammering of Oyonnax at Kingspan Stadium this afternoon.

Read our match report here.

The waiting game

Ulster have done as much as they can, scoring eight tries in this victory and greatly improving their points difference overall. Now they must sit back and allow the other play-off contenders do their best.

Ian Humphreys celebrates his try with teammates Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Les Kiss’ side need two of the following four to occur – Leinster to beat Wasps this afternoon in Coventry, the Scarlets to defeat Northampton in Wales this evening [KO 5.30pm], Leicester to win against Stade Français in Paris tomorrow [KO 1pm Irish time], Exeter to take victory at home to the Ospreys tomorrow [KO 3.15pm].

It’s not impossible to imagine all four of those results going against Ulster, though Leinster’s current form is heartening, Exeter are a proud force at Sandy Park, the Scarlets have been strong at home under Wayne Pivac and Stade Français have Top 14 concerns in the back of their minds.

We will wait and see.

Jared Payne at 15

We’ve long been advocates of playing Jared Payne at fullback, even if he is a high-quality centre, and this performance showed exactly why. The Ireland international was exceptional from the back as Ulster looked to run everything back at Oyonnax.

Jared Payne Dan Sheridan / INPHO Payne was superb. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

His counter-attacking trust for Rory Scholes’ try showed Payne’s vision and incision in that area of the game, while he hit the line perfectly to set up Darren Cave on a wonderful set-piece try earlier in the half.

Payne’s awareness so often allows him to insert himself into the attacking line in the ideal place and it’s a joy to watch the 30-year-old in live action, constantly scanning and reacting. His try was richly deserved.

Rob Kearney has been the long-time incumbent in Ireland’s 15 shirt, but former Blues man Payne is a genuine option for Joe Schmidt if the head coach is intent on broadening the scope of Ireland’s attacking game.

Payne has delivered in the 13 shirt for Ireland repeatedly – and finished this game in that position – but with plentiful options in midfield for Schmidt at this point, the Ulster back may be best deployed as a playmaking fullback in the Six Nations.

Set-piece intelligence

Combining the brain power and rugby intellect of Les Kiss and Neil Doak is proving to be a winning element for Ulster at present, and that’s nowhere more obvious than in the province’s clever attacking play.

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Darren Cave scores a try Presseye / Darren Kidd/INPHO Presseye / Darren Kidd/INPHO / Darren Kidd/INPHO

The awful Oyonnax defence played into their hands this afternoon, of course, but the thinking behind so many of Ulster’s strike plays was laudable. The close-range lineout play that was held up, the loop moves in midfield, and the beautiful two-phase power play for Darren Cave’s try; all were impressive.

While Ulster’s players need to consistently add the physical factors to the ideas Doak and Kiss are handing them, this has certainly been one of the most encouraging aspects we’ve seen from Ulster’s coaching team this season.

In-form players

Payne was our pick of the bunch, but Nick Williams’ man of the match award was hard-earned. The number eight was in typically rampaging form with ball in hand, while he showed a notable work rate around the rucks and even on kick chase at times.

Nick Williams is tackled by Julien Blanc Presseye / Darren Kidd/INPHO Presseye / Darren Kidd/INPHO / Darren Kidd/INPHO

Luke Marshall in midfield continued the good form that has seen him recalled to the Ireland squad and he will surely be capped again in the near future. Outside him, Darren Cave was understandably gasping for air early on, but showed his class too.

The passing game of Paddy Jackson was as sharp as ever, and his 100% success rate off the tee on the conversions added to the positive impression he has made in that department this season.

Sean Reidy at openside has been compensating for the injury issues Chris Henry faces and was strong once again here. Out wide, Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy were as proactive as they always are, while Rory Scholes looks the real deal.

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