Friday June 3rd in Belfast may well be looked back on as a momentous day for the current Ulster Rugby set up.
Welcoming old foes Munster to the Kingspan stadium for a United Rugby Championship quarterfinal traditionally means a tough battle with plenty of fireworks throughout.
What transpired however was perhaps one of the cleanest performances of the Dan McFarland era to date.
The Ulstermen ran ragged as they swept aside the two-time European Champions with ease to progress to the semi-finals.
Next up is a mouth-watering trip to Cape Town to take on the high flying Stormers who have quite literally stormed back into contention as legitimate title challengers.
Whilst on balance, Leinster remain the Irish pace setters due in no small part to their ridiculous strength in depth. Ulster should be confident that in a one-off match-up they could rattle their southern nemesis.
Of course, before them lies the small matter of the Stormers who will fancy their chances of booking a ticket to Dublin with a chance to knock over losing European finalists.
Should Ulster overcome the physical and fast Stormers, the belief within the squad will be at a point never seen before.
Having come within one point of knocking over the then European champions Toulouse, McFarland’s side has proven they have what it takes. However, if they do not go all the way this season whether correct or not, the title of almost rans will be thrown about.
Whilst this assessment may not be fair, the squad that Ulster now possesses is full of potential Irish internationals for their upcoming tour to New Zealand.
Leading the way is the 23-year-old James Hume who has become a revelation over the past couple of seasons.
🗣️”There’s a bit of a strut to them.”ADVERTISEMENT
Keith Wood feels that Ulster’s young players need more credit after that Munster win | 🏉
🗣️”James Hume…all season, his step, his aggression…”@VodafoneIreland | #TeamOfUs pic.twitter.com/2PyrX69mEp
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) June 8, 2022
The centre has shown that he is the real deal, the challenge facing him however is that Ireland coach Andy Farrell has several other centres who are also the real deal.
Starting with British and Irish Lions Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki as well as Garry Ringrose who many believe to be the best of the bunch.
This trio has had a monopoly on the Irish centre berths dating back to the Joe Schmidt era and none of them look likely to ease up between now and the World Cup.
Behind them is the ever-physical Chris Farrell of Munster and Hume’s Ulster teammate Stuart McCloskey
Dig even deeper and there is the quick rising Ciaran Frawley alongside the experienced options of Rory Scannell and Sammy Arnold.
Centre is not a position of need for Irish Rugby at this moment in time but such is the quality of Hume’s performances of late the question must be asked can he go straight into the starting line-up?
At 6’1” and 100kg with exceptional pace but more importantly a brilliant distribution game, Hume fits the bill perfectly for what Ireland are trying to achieve.
A combination with Ringrose would see two silky smooth operators get Ireland’s dangerous back three into the game quite quickly.
Should Farrell need to take a physical approach a combination with Aki could see holes blown in opposition defences.
Saving perhaps the best for last however would be a Henshaw and Hume combination that would incorporate the physicality with the footballing skills of both men.
Any of these three options are good enough to go toe-to-toe with the best in the world. The question now is which one if any will Farrell select as he looks to bed down combinations ahead of the all important World Cup.