*O’Brien to miss 6 Nations
*Ulster have best record in Heineken so far this season
*Ulster 5th in Rabo table, with 7 wins and 4 losses
*Ulster face Munster on Jan 3rd. Munster top Rabo table with 10 wins and 1 loss
Well, before I begin I have some bad news to report. Leinster and Ireland were hit with a big blow when Sean O’Brien got injured in Leinster’s win over Ulster last Saturday (Leinster won 19-6). The flanker dislocated his shoulder in the match and has had to undergo surgery.
O’Brien is now likely to miss the whole of the 6 Nations, as such an injury can take up to 4 months to recover from and the 6 Nations will be over in March. O’Brien will also miss Leinster’s last 2 pool games in the Heineken Cup and may miss even more Heineken matches if Leinster manage to qualify.
Sean O’Brien is a great player and has put in huge performances in recent times for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions. He is huge loss. Neither Leinster nor Ireland have an openside close to his quality in reserve. Both Leinster’s and Ireland’s chances of doing well in the Rabo, Heineken and 6 Nations have being diminished somewhat with this news.
If Ulster hadn’t lost to Leinster last week they would have been heading into the New Year in high spirits. They’ve had a great run since the start of this season (August ’13). Ulster are undefeated in their pool (5) in the Heineken Cup and were 2nd place in the Rabo. They’ve now dropped to 5th place in the Rabo.
Ulster have had a great tournament so far. They’re currently top of their pool and have the most points of any of the Heineken pool leaders, with 18 points. They’re also currently undefeated in the pool.
Ulster started the Heineken Cup in October, with a close win over Leicester, one of the top European clubs, 22-16. Ulster then went on to crush Montpellier, 25-8, in Montpellier’s home ground. After a break for the November International series, Ulster destroyed Treviso, 48-0.
Ulster scored 7 tries in the drubbing, easily earning the 4-try bonus point. The next week, Ulster again thumped Treviso, this time, 35-3. Ulster remain the only side in the Heineken so far, to have won all their matches. A great record.
Ulster will next face Montpellier, in Ravenhill (Ulster’s home ground) on the 10th January. On the 18th January they face Leicester away. Leicester are 3 points behind Ulster in the pool, with 15pts and will need to gain maximum points against Treviso (who they play on the 11th Jan) if they are to have any hope of topping the pool.
Ulster will have to win their next 2 games if they want to remain at the top of the pool. There’s a good chance, though, that they might qualify for the quarter-final rounds anyway as they already have a high number of points.
Ulster’s game against Montpellier will be difficult, especially given the thrashing they gave them the last time (Ulster won 25-8 in Montpellier’s home ground). Ulster don’t want to fall for the same trap that Leinster did, where they do very well away and then lose at home.
Facing Leicester away will be a very tough challenge, especially as Leicester are one of the most well-supported teams in Europe. Ulster struggled to beat them in Ravenhill, it should be a lot tougher to beat Leicester in their home ground.
Ulster have had an okay season in the Rabo, winning 7 of their 11 games, so far, while losing the other 4. Ulster have 33 points in the Rabo table and are ranked 5th (out of 12). Ulster are only 3 points behind 2nd placed Leinster. Munster are still way ahead with 43 points.
Ulster will face Munster on Friday 3rd, at 7pm. Munster are on top of the Rabo pool with 43 points, and have won 10 of their 11 games, Munster’s only defeat was a shock loss to Treviso. Munster and Ulster both have tough Heineken games a week after their dual so they may decide to rest some of their best players for the clash. Munster won the last game between the 2 sides, 24-10.
Ulster had a few injury concerns in the Leinster game, players like Andrew Trimble and Luke Marhsall were injured in that game, but seem to be all right now. Ulster are still without the services of Paddy Wallace, Rory Best and Tommy Bowe, but prognosis is good on these players returning pretty soon. No word on Stephen Ferris, though.