Can Ulster win the Pro12 this season?

by Florian Christoph
by Florian Christoph
by Florian Christoph

Ulster are one of Ireland’s top rugby union teams and will be looking to build on their fourth-placed finish in the 2014-15 Pro12 campaign. Ulster, which is one of the four provincial rugby teams in Ireland, are a strong, formidable outfit and could go on to seriously challenge for the Pro12 title this season. Last campaign, they reached the semi-finals after winning 14 of their 22 regular season matches but came up against an exceptionally talented Glasgow side who emerged as 16-14 winners after a hard-fought encounter. The Scottish side went on to record a 31-13 success over Munster in the final of the competition, which was held at Ulster’s very own Kingspan Stadium.

Neil Doak’s men are incredibly strong at home and regularly attract high attendances at Kingspan Stadium. The average attendance across the Pro12 for the 2014-15 campaign was just shy of 9,000 spectators but Ulster’s average was much higher than that figure. In fact, they attracted well over 10,000 for their opening home fixture of the season against the Ospreys. Ulster’s home support will play a crucial role throughout the duration of the season and their players will rely on a fiery atmosphere to ensure that opposing sides find it difficult to play to their potential.

 

In the short term, Ulster will be without several key players for the duration of the Rugby World Cup and Doak will be praying that none of his stars pick up serious injury issues throughout the tournament. It is absolutely imperative that Rory Best manages to get through the World Cup unscathed as the Ulster captain is crucial to their success, both on and off the field. At 33 years old, Best has been there and done it all and the hooker commands respect from each and every member of the Ulster dressing room. His leadership skills and organisational attributes are second to none and he’d be a big miss if he was to pick up a major injury problem.

Meanwhile, Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe are two of the national team’s top players and both will be expected to play crucial roles for their country throughout the World Cup. While Joe Schmidt will attempt to utilise these stars wisely, Ireland may rely on both players to be difference makers in their close matches. The likes of Johnny Sexton and Paul O’Connell are excellent leaders but Bowe and Payne will also provide much-needed experience and versatility in wider areas. Both players will be important to Ireland’s success this autumn but also to Ulster’s throughout the course of the Pro12 campaign and in the other cup competitions. However, by the looks of Tommy Bowe’s Twitter account, the Irish are also insisting on having a good time off the field!

 

Their squad is arguably one of the toughest and most powerful in the Pro12 division and many have suggested that they could even hold their own in the Aviva Premiership – that’s just how good they are. If Ulster can improve their away form, they will stand an immense chance of success in the Pro12 this season. At the time of writing, Ulster are 7/2 with betfair to win the Pro12 and with a bit of luck, they could well go on to achieve this target. It’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility and if they are fortunate enough to avoid any major injury repercussions after the World Cup, that will stand them in good stead for a prosperous and successful season.

by Chris P Jobling
by Chris P Jobling

Ulster’s next match will take place on October 2nd as they welcome Treviso to the Kingspan Stadium. Last season, Treviso finished 11th in the division, recording just three victories throughout the 22-match season. Two of those victories came against fellow Italian side Zebre, who also won just three matches all season. While Treviso gave Ulster a close match in Italy, as the Irish side earned a 24-20 victory, they were poor away from home and fell 43-3 to Ulster in front of 15,518 at Kingspan Stadium. Ulster will be looking for another bonus point win in front of their own fans as they look to build on their solid start.

It may be a little far-fetched to suggest that Ulster will challenge for the Pro12 crown this season but they will almost certainly be there or thereabouts. They will look to continue their excellent home form throughout the duration of the campaign but they must improve on the road if they are to challenge the likes of Glasgow and Munster this season. While it’s all fine and dandy winning matches at Kingspan Stadium, they need to show that they can win difficult fixtures away from home and the organisational skills and tactical nous of Best, who was named Heineken Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year, will help his side to remain focussed on his return from international duty.

Ulster supporters will be firmly split on Ireland’s Rugby World Cup performance and, in an ideal world, they will win the competition without any serious injuries to their domestic stars. However, progression through the tournament could mean an extended absence afterwards in order to recover and possibly celebrate if Ireland perform as many are suggesting and reach the latter stages of the competition for the first time in their history. In terms of the Pro12, Ulster have a sensational chance of going one better this season and, with a bit of luck, Doak’s men could be lifting the trophy at the end of the campaign

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