Sport Connacht Rugby

Sunday 20 January 2019

Speight desperate to leave Ulster on a high

Henry Speight hopes to leave his mark on Ulster. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Henry Speight hopes to leave his mark on Ulster. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When Henry Speight agreed to join Ulster from the Brumbies on a five-month deal, the province could only have hoped that he would have anything like the impact that his fellow Australian had at the same stage of last year.

Christian Lealiifano might only have been at the club for a short stint but the out-half was a major presence on and off the pitch last season, particularly in the work that he did with the younger, less-experienced players.

The word from Belfast is that Speight has been just as influential in a similar period of time as head coach Dan McFarland has looked to use every bit of his vast experience.

Had the World Cup not been looming large on the horizon, one wonders if Ulster might have been able to twist the winger's arm to hang around even longer.

As it is however, Speight will return in time to begin pre-season with the Brumbies as the 19-times capped Wallaby winger looks to force his way into Michael Cheika's plans for Japan.

"As soon as December 1 came around, it starts coming to the back of your mind (that you are going)," Speight admitted.

Harder

"It makes it a lot harder with the way the results have been going. That always creates a good vibe. The boys are happy, the team are up, the whole province is happy. With the consistency of players on the field, we are a very good side. It is going to be really hard to pull away."

Speight's final task before he returns to Australia on Sunday is to help Ulster maintain their excellent run of form that has seen them win all four games thus far this month, by racking up a fifth consecutive victory against a wounded Connacht side tonight that will be smarting from their last-gasp defeat to Leinster last Saturday.

"I hope they can see a good team man and good person, who offered to help out or give a hand in the gym or at training or with footage," Speight said in terms of the legacy that he hopes to leave behind at Ulster.

"Someone who helped bring along some of the young boys, especially in the outside backs.

"The likes of Mike Lowry, Rob Baloucoune, Angus Kernohan and Rob Lyttle. I had a lot of time with them.

"Their passion and drive drove me as well and I learned a lot from them. I hope they took something from me. If they did, I would be very humbled and happy.

"There are no limitations of people not talking to other people. There are no groups within the team, it is just a big brotherhood and you see 'Bestie' (Rory Best) talking with someone who is 19 years old and cracking a joke.

"Things like that make everyone come in and have a massive part of it. That will make it really hard to take the jersey off.

"On the flip side, off the field it's an amazing place to be and the people are very hospitable and kind and accepting.

"We can't thank everyone enough whether you meet them on the streets, or in the stands or in the club, the offices and stuff, everyone has been absolutely amazing."

How Connacht respond to throwing away a 17-point lead with 10 minutes left on the clock could go a long way to defining their season.

The westerners have been making great strides under Andy Friend, who will be hoping that his players will not be scarred by passing up an ideal chance to win their first game in Dublin in 16 years.

"These interpro fixtures are massive occasions and when they take place over the Christmas period, they bring that increased level of excitement," Friend insisted.

"We know there will be a big home crowd in the Sportsground and we will need to be up for the occasion with Ulster coming to town.

"This block of fixtures is hugely important in the context of our season, but we are not looking beyond Ulster.

"Ulster are coming off the back of a great win over Munster and I'm sure they will come to the Sportsground full of confidence."

Verdict: Connacht

Connacht - D Leader; C Kelleher, T Farrell, B Aki, K Godwin; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, S Delahunt, C Carey; G Thornbury, Q Roux; S O'Brien, C Fainga'a, J Butler (capt). Reps: D Heffernan, P McCabe, D Robertson-McCoy, U Dillane, P Boyle, J Mitchell, D Horwitz, S Fitzgerald.

Ulster - L Ludik; H Speight, W Addison, D Cave, A Kernohan; J McPhillips, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring (capt), M Moore; I Nagle, K Treadwell; N Timoney, J Murphy, M Coetzee. Reps: A McBurney, T O'Hagan, R Kane, C Ross, G Jones, D Shanahan, P Nelson, S McCloskey.

Ref - M Mitrea (Italy).

  • Connacht v Ulster, Live, TG4/eir Sport, 7.45

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