IT FEELS AN awful long time ago since the outlook over Ravenhill was gloomy.
They began the season with two RaboDirect Pro12 defeats and naturally the comparisons were instantly being made with last season – the 13 straight wins that took the northern province all the way up to December.
There was no need to panic.
Mark Anscombe smiled as the question about Ulster’s perfect gameplan in Montpellier was put to him. “Nearly”, said the Kiwi coach.
The manner in which Anscombe’s side systematically took down their hosts spoke of a squad with growing belief in itself. Even when Yves du Manoir really began hum with Yoan Audrin’s try to bring the hosts within two points, Ulster were poise personified.
This deft kick to the corner from Paddy Jackson and another drive from Darren Cave were not killer blows, but each good decision from Ulster sucked the life out of Montpellier’s hope of a comeback and fuelled their frustration, the penalties duly followed.
This was Ulster’s fifth consecutive victory since blowing what looked a certain victory at home to Glasgow. And yet they are nowhere near their full capacity yet. They have not been punished since the Warriors’ smash and grab and members of the squad freely admit that their conversion rate of chances into tries needs a dramatic improvement.
This is what makes the northern province such an intriguing prospect at this point of the season.
Saturday’s most notable should-have-been was Tom Court’s gallop to the right-hand corner before the hour mark. Jared Payne’s superb delay created a three-on-one overlap on the right. Unfortunately, it was Court with Rory Best in support rather than, say, Cave with Tommy Bowe.
As Court charged, Best could not offer him the outside option. When the prop did run into contact, Best took a smart line inside where the gap was still wide open.
Unfortunately for Ulster, the loosehead’s elbows made his intended pass all too clear and Francois Trinh-Duc was alert enough to intercept the obvious offload.
Still, when the the right men are in the right place Ulster’s attack can be devastatingly smooth. Here’s the crucial first half try, also instigated by Payne with a flat pass on halfway inviting Cave to attack.
YouTube credit: TheUAFC
The four points which nobody expected them to get leave Ulster Ireland’s best placed side after two rounds in Europe. Eight points are on the board already and they will be confident of adding nine to that when they meet Treviso in December’s back-to-back fixtures.
By then, they will hope that passes in the final third will be sticking more often. If so, Ravenhill will barely feel the cold.