Does Ulster's early season form put them among the European contenders?

Johne Murphy joined Off the Ball on Sunday to discuss their form

Does Ulster's early season form put them among the European contenders?

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Rob Hardie

As starts to a season go, Ulster couldn't be much happier with theirs. 

Sitting atop the Pro12 table with 17 points after four games, Friday night's victory against Glasgow in their eagerly anticipated clash laid down a marker for the season ahead. 

The 22-17 win in Scotstoun continued their 100% start to the season as Les Kiss' men continued to display their endearing brand of rugby, with Paddy Jackson's superb match winning try the perfect example of what the northern province have been about this season. 

Despite the slick conditions, Ulster had faith in their handling skills to attack from deep after a turnover and reaped the rewards when Louis Ludik slipped past his man on the outside channel before sharp hands from Ruan Pienaar and Darren Cave helped to free Jackson to slide over the line. 

 


Their early season performances have captured the eye of former Leicester Tigers and Munster back Johne Murphy, who feels that should they continue in this vain of form, silverware may not be too far away. 

"The Pro12 should be putting that game up in lights. Dreadful conditions, both teams really wanted to play and they played fantastic rugby," he said speaking to Off the Ball on Sunday.

"Their endeavor to play, turnover the ball and then two or three passes and they're gone."

At the moment, Ulster have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal, with Springbok Ruan Pienaar and All-Black Chalres Piutau the sprinkling of foreign gold dust in a backline that is stacked with Irish internationals. 

Glasgow Warriors' Tommy Seymour tackles Charles Piutau of Ulster
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Craig Watson

Perhaps more impressively, Ulster seem to have struck a balance between attack and defense that has been the foundation upon which they have been building victories.

In their opening four games, they have averaged 3.25 tries per game, leaving them fourth overall in tries scored, but they hold the league's best defensive record with opposing teams crossing their whitewash just five times so far. Their discipline in defense has seen them concede a lowly 44 points in total. 

Ulster have the second highest points scored/conceded ratio in the league with +2.1, second only to Ospreys rather incredible +3.05 following their blistering opening three games to the season, before they fell to Leinster at the weekend.  

It gives hope for real optimism and the Kingspan Stadium, with Murphy believing they have a great chance to bring their early season form with them into Europe, with a European semi-final or final a strong possibility.

"Charels Piutau looks like one of the best wingers in world rugby. He stood up Stuart Hogg at one stage and Hogg is rapid. He made complete mince meat of him. He made one or two mistakes, but in conditions like that he was incredible.

"He is a player people will want to pay and go see. With the way their playing and that x-factor they have (they could reach a European semi-final).  

"You look at the back three they can get, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Piutau. There's going to be someone missing out there. That means one of them might go into the centre, that means McCloskey misses out, or Marshall misses out, Stuart Olding or Darren Cave.

"They have so many options and real, real class."