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Paul Steinmetz, Ulster Rugby

Paul Steinmetz – rolling back the years!

Where do we go from here?

On the face of it, bottom of the league and no competitive wins, the only way to go is up. However, the mechanics of how we get out of this mess is vitally important at this stage of Ulster’s illustrious history. We don’t even need to dredge up the non professional history of being the greatest Provincial side ever and the defeat of the “Grand Slam” Wallabies, for our record in the professional era is second only to the Monsters in the Celtic League.

First Irish side to win the Heineken Cup, Celtic Cup winners, Celtic League winners and, for three years on the trot, the best supported team in the Celtic League. That last fact is the most important, especially when you consider that Ulster had the guts of 100,000 watch them over the last three rounds of the Heineken Cup. This huge support has never been capitalised on and this is the root of Ulster’s problems.

A crap stadium, poor training facilities, an appallingly low return of spend from the massive footfall and a continual struggle to attract big name players speaks volumes of poor management. Ulster Rugby have failed to cope with the professional era and the chickens are coming home to roost.

In January 2009 we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of our Heineken Cup win and things are slowly starting to change. The stadium is being re-developed, the training facilities are being upgraded and Humphreys is taking over the commercial arm of Ulster Rugby. New markets are being explored and there is talk of a pre-season tour to the USA  next year. The only thing that is going to stop this being too little too late is the continued support of the Ulster public. This needs to be recognised and acknowledged in a meaningful way by Ulster Rugby, who need to improve their communication with the support.

While it is easy to say that things are in place, be patient, it would be much easier to swallow the complacent mismanagement of Ulster Rugby if things were better on the pitch and here communication with the supporter needs to be improved.

Talk of we are a young side and we’re developing just don’t cut it any more. Talk of a three year development plan is not the answer. These excuses are lowering the expectations of the players as was patently obvious on Saturday night. The Ulster starting side were older and more experienced than the Ospreys. Ulster featured World Cup and Heineken Cup winners plus a smattering of Celtic League winners yet they were beaten before they went onto the pitch which is a disgrace. This is the makings of a good side yet they are constantly being excused with low expectations. If the plethora of coaches and support staff aren’t getting the performances out of the team it’s time for them to look at their own performance rather than slide the blame to referees or injuries or player errors.

While there were a few individual performances, most noticeably from Boss and Steinmetz, there was absolutely no team performance in defence or attack. Support and aggression at the breakdown was missing and open play was an absolute and total shambles. This was a team playing with no confidence and no ideas. There was application and effort but the team fell apart. Players looked to be concentrating so much on their own game, their own errors their own issues that they forgot to play as a team. The absolute farce of Botha’s sending off was a case in point. That should have been sorted out by the front five after the second scrum.

In a way this comprehensive defeat could be the best thing to happen the current regime. Reasoned excuses were being listened too, justifications for defeat were being believed and the true overall scope of the problem was being ignored. From now on in the only thing being coached should be teamwork and the only expectation should be a win. Let’s look forward to Edinburgh with expectation and confidence. Roll on Friday night.

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