Newport Gwent Dragons 19 – 46 Ulster
Rodney Parade Fri 26 Oct
In the end Ulster showed their class and impressive strength in depth to run out comfortable winners against a game Dragons, who whilst never really looking like they might win, were still in it until Darren Cave’ well-taken try towards the end of the third quarter.
The main talking point ahead of the match was the selection of Tommy Bowe at full-back which many suggested was made in Dublin. Whatever the truth of the matter, resting the magnificent Jared Payne, who had played every minute of Ulster’s campaign before the visit to Rodney Parade, was a decent move for Ulster. If nothing else, it allowed Anscombe to have a look at what he would do if the classy Kiwi were to get injured: full-back would be one of the few positions where we don’t have any top quality reserves - yet.
So how did our favourite son of Monaghan get on? Well from my vantage point in the frosty Hazells Terrace, he looked pretty solid. And, having watched the game on the iPlayer following a tweet expressing a contrary opinion, I would stick with that view. His positioning was good; he caught everything that came his way; kicked well (though clearly not as well as RK) and ran some excellent lines to pierce the Dragons midfield on more than one occasion. He was only asked to make one tackle, a one-on-one against the Dragons’ blindside which he nailed although it didn’t count towards the stats as it was made after the whistle had blown for a knock on. Kidney will be disappointed that the Dragons failed to put up any kicks that they could contest although we all know that his is not an area of weakness for Bowe. Consequenty, whilst I certainly wouldn’t be worried if he started at 15 against the Boks, there was barely enough evidence to make a strong case for it thus my preference would be for Jones or Henshaw at the back with Tommy in his usual berth on the wing.
The other talking point for Ulster fans was the return of their prodigal 8. After 57 mins Roger Wilson replaced Nick Williams, who had punched massive holes in the Dragons defence but, disconcertingly, left nursing his ribs. Wilson looked excellent in his first short outing for the senior team since returning from the Saints, making some good carries and looking very sharp in defence: Ulster really do have an embarrassment of riches in the backrow.
The ScrumV team awarded man-of-the-match to Ruan Pienaar, who was not at his brilliant best, especially from the tee. For me, Trimble stood head and shoulders above the rest. As ever, his defence was rock solid including one brutal hit to stop the Dragons’ replacement openside close to the Ulster line. He successfully contested Paul Marshall’s accurate box kicks and looked dangerous in attack all night, sealing his performance with a great read of a Dragons’ move to intercept and gallop 50 metres to score under the posts. He looks at least as good as he did this time last year and must start against South Africa.
Overall a decent performance from Ulster who will know that they left at least a dozen points on the pitch. When this team gets into top gear someone is going to get hockeyed – let’s hope it’s Northampton. However, Anscombe does have one major problem – how the devil is he going to accommodate Henderson, as he surely must, when Stevie Ferris returns? This young man is really something and full international honours cannot be far off.