Stars aligned for Ulster but Jonny Bell wary of party-poopers Munster

For a while there, during the seven years when Irish sides claimed the Heineken Cup five times, there was a tendency to dismiss a Celtic League title as a trifling thing.

 A ha’penny place afterthought.

Not now.

Leinster would have clearly relished the opportunity to defend their title in the forthcoming Pro12 play-offs while success in Kingspan Stadium in the final later this month for Munster or Ulster would stand out as a seminal achievement.

For Anthony Foley, it would be a trophy to bookend his maiden season in charge and a first piece of silverware for the province since they claimed what was still the Magners League crown four years ago.

For Ulster the attainment of the summit would be an even greater feat of mountaineering, given the low base from which they began last summer when David Humphreys, Mark Anscombe and key players all departed.

For them, too, Europe has always been the pinnacle, but it is 16 years since that epic success in 1999 and the 2006 Celtic League stands as the only course they have navigated successfully in the time since.

The wait has been long, but their hopes are high, what with the new stadium hosting the decider, a continuing mix of homegrown talent and expensively acquisitioned foreigners and their fate being in their own hands.

If there is a fear for Ulster, it is that the stars seem almost too symmetrically aligned for a pursuit that scoffs at best laid plans as sport does and then there is the possibility that they could actually want this a little too much.

Is such a thing possible? “Although winning a trophy I don’t think defines how successful you are, it’s what we strive for,” said Jonny Bell, the defence coach who joins Humphreys at Gloucester next season.

“We want silverware. Every team is the same. They want and are determined to bring back silverware. Can you want it too much? If you don’t want it enough, you’ll pay the price.”

Finding that emotional balance will be key.

So, too, will calibrating the optimum intensity against a Munster side whose respect for the Pro12’s best home record will probably be tempered by the fact that they have been the tournament’s most effective travellers.

“Munster are masters of knowing how to close out games,” says Bell.

“In away games, if your fundamentals are strong, if your setpiece is incredibly strong and you apply pressure in the right parts of the pitch, then that goes a long way because you are stealing energy from the opposition, taking energy from the crowd, and all that influences what can happen emotionally on the pitch.

“We must make sure that we don’t energise them, that we play in the right parts of the pitch, that we fundamentally get dominance at setpiece, which is no easy feat because that is what they thrive on. They thrive on being in the right parts of the pitch and squeezing. They have done that for years, are very good at it.”

Today, one of them will need to be that bit better than they have been for some time.


The actor knows how to impress when it comes to high profile events.6 times Katie Holmes wowed on the red carpet

Glamour, fun and feathers all feature in this year’s hottest looks – but first and foremost, individual style rules.10 on-trend ways to transform your home in 2020

Abi Jackson shares the enduring appeal of Pooh Bear’s wisdom on Winnie-the-Pooh Day – author A.A. Milne’s birthday.Winnie-the-Pooh Day: The wellbeing lessons we can learn from Pooh Bear

We asked three experts for the low-down on shampooing frequency.How often should you really wash your hair?

More From The Irish Examiner