Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Ugly, bad and very little good.
Saturday's defeat was in sharp contrast to the previous weekend. It was a vivid reminder that given the squad Booth has inherited, we need our top players to play out of their skins, and for the team to play mistake free football. There are just too many passengers in this squad if those two key factors do not align.
Booth's post match game analysis was simple and spot on. We lost the arm wrestle. Last week we won the gain line in attack and defence. This week the power and size of their excellent back row destroyed us. They played on the front foot when we played on the back foot. They pressurised Rhys Webb into one of his poorest performances. It was incredible that we got it back to 12-17, but the early substitution of Sam Parry for Dewi Lake killed any chance of an unlikely escape. Lake is going to be a very good player but, until he sorts out his throwing, he should be nowhere near a pro rugby pitch, unless there is an emergency.
The decision not to start with Dan Lydiate against such a big and powerful back row was a costly decision. Lydiate is the only loose forward in the entire squad with pro size and power and with a longer spell on the pitch he could have prevented Ulster winning the gain line as easily as they did. There is little point in setting record tackle numbers if you cannot win the gain line with any of those tackles. A further concern will be just how easily the midfield defence has given up long runs even in weather conditions favourable to the defence. Serious questions have to asked of the centres and wingers, particularly after the capitulation of the final try.
If there were some bright spots it was that our starting centres did look capable of gaining metres when they were given limited chances and Harri Morgan is going to be a very good player at this level, but unless Booth is given some funds to recruit particularly at 8 and 10 it could be a long season ahead. This season could be all about seeing which young players are worth supplementing with an infusion of veteran talent. James Davies-Yandle said in a recent interview that fans can expect changes. Those changes cannot come quickly enough. He must give Booth the tools needed to rebuild in order to protect his investment.