Trimble: Ulster can alter Irish power balance
When you have given as much to the Ulster cause as Andrew Trimble, common perceptions about the province begin to grate a little and the desire to change them burns deep. Still only 27, the Ireland wing has been around the block a few times with Ulster and only his fellow three-quarter Paddy Wallace, five years his senior, has played more times in the Heineken Cup and overall for Ulster.
So it is understandable that in the resurgence his province has enjoyed these last two seasons, of which the next and biggest hurdle is this evening’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium, Trimble is eager to bury a few myths about Ulster Rugby.
He buried one in emphatic style earlier this month when the northerners travelled to Limerick and staged the mother of all smash and grabs at Thomond Park to knock out two-time champions Munster in the quarter-finals and the change in fortunes is mostly attributed to the arrival of the South African contingent in the province.
The arrival of Ruan Pienaar, current captain Johann Muller, Pedrie Wannenburg and BJ Botha — who has since joined Munster — coincided with the revival under head coach Brian McLaughlin as Ulster embarked on a mission to recapture the glory days that delivered Ireland’s first Heineken Cup success in 1999.
Yet to credit them solely is, to Trimble’s mind, doing a disservice to the homegrown talent.
“I think there is a small bit of a myth about when these guys came in,” Trimble said. “I can’t help thinking quite a lot of people believe the foreigners come in and take over and are leading us.
“They have very much bought into the Ulster culture and the Ulster way of doing things.
“I’m really pleased that that’s the case because we’ve kept our identity. In my experience we’ve had that identity since 2006-2007 when we were struggling to win games. We were just going through a couple of coaches, struggling, and just not performing very well, just not doing ourselves justice.
“Small things make a big difference whenever it comes to Heineken Cup quarter-finals and semi-finals. I just don’t think you can underestimate how far we’ve come as an Ulster team as well.”
That said, Trimble is not slow to recognise the effect the Springboks have had on the emerging talent in the Ulster squad.
“I think definitely the likes of (scrum-half) Paul Marshall is a good example. He’s been playing out of his skin this year. I mean there is every chance he is learning from Ruan, he is learning from that experience and he’ll come through and he’ll get better and better. I think that’s just one example of the sort of impact these guys can have.”
The emergence of Trimble, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, and the soon to return Tommy Bowe as mainstays of Declan Kidney’s Ireland team, however, has a definite ‘Made in Ravenhill’ stamp on it.
In this season’s RBS 6 Nations championship, 10 of Ireland’s 13 tries were scored by Ulstermen (including one for Australian-born Tom Court), and that statistic underlines a changing shift to the traditional Munster-Leinster axis in the Test set-up.
“Yeah, I think there is an element of that,” Trimble said, “there is an element of the balance of power.
“I think Munster and Leinster get more coverage, they get more attention, there is more expected from Munster and Leinster than there is Ulster in the Heineken Cup and we want that to change. We just don’t want to be considered the third-choice province.”
Which means another perception for Trimble to alter.
“It is sort of ingrained in people’s head and that is never going to change. To beat Leicester Tigers at home and get the bonus point, who cares really? If you beat Clermont at home it doesn’t really matter until you play them in a quarter-final or semi-final or a final and you beat them.
“There is no better way for us to change that mindset a little bit then going to Thomond and getting the win. It was big and hopefully that is a big turning point.
“When Edinburgh beat Toulouse and we realised we had a massive task in Munster, we realised then if we got a result down there just how profitable it would be for us.
“But I don’t think we realistically thought we were going to be playing in a semi-final last year. This year I think the ambition has just gone on so much more. I think 12 months makes a big difference and the experience we’ve got, we’re just really excited to be playing in a semi-final.
“We just want to make the most of any opportunity we get.”
© This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, April 28, 2012