Anscombe challenges Ulster to repay fans in Zebre clash
Beware the man who isn't easily satisfied. Ulster coach Mark Anscombe had to sit through their second defeat of the Celtic League last week and was far from happy.
The coach suffered while Ospreys mugged an Ulster team that had looked a formidable force before Christmas. Their only other loss in the league was a defeat by Munster at Thomond Park when Ulster were seriously below strength.
Until then Ulster had looked the most impressive of the Irish provincial teams and the loss to Ospreys was their only defeat of the season at home in the league. Anscombe has challenged his players to show just why they had been so highly rated early in the season by producing a performance against Italian side Zebre at Ravenhill tonight.
The straight-talking Kiwi left no room for discussion when he said: "We have to win – It's that simple.
"Our option-taking was very poor against Ospreys and as a result individual players became overly anxious and started to play like individuals instead of a team.
"That hurt us and is something we have to remedy this weekend.
"We lacked intensity. Maybe it was as a result of the break in fixtures. I don't know. But we didn't have the ball for 30 minutes.
"It's very hard to get any sort of control on a game when you concede possession for 30 minutes," Anscombe added.
Ulster have been boosted by the availability of a number of players who will be in contention for international duty next weekend. Iain Henderson, Tom Court, Paddy Jackson and Darren Cave have all been made available for the game.
Luke Marshall is also named in their starting line-up, as is Lewis Stevenson. The second-row will partner Johann Muller and his performance will be monitored by the Ireland management.
The former Schools and U-21 international has been involved in the training camps with Ireland at various stages this season.
"Things have gone really well for me this season," said Stevenson. "It was brilliant to be in camp and being in the Ireland set-up was a first for me. It was a real eye-opener as well as being a real privilege."
The lack of physicality in last weekend's loss is also something the second-row is annoyed about and he will be one to take up his coach's challenge.
"We need to show our supporters our gratitude. We have a full house every week. We were off the pace last weekend. It's time to make amends this weekend with a performance and result," stated Anscombe.
ULSTER – R Andrew; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Cochrane; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Herring, D Fitzpatrick, J Muller (capt), L Stevenson, I Henderson, C Henry, R Diack. Reps: N Annett, C Black, J Afoa, N McComb, M McComish, M Heaney, S Olding, N Walsh.
ZEBRE – P Buso; L Sarto, A Benettin, G Garcia, S Sinoti; D Halangahu, A Chillon; A de Marchi, A Manici, L Redolfini; M van Vuren, M Bortolami, F Cristiano, M Bergamasco, J Sole. Reps: C Festuccia, C Fazzari, M Aguero, D van Schalkwyk, N Belardo, A Chiesa, M Pratichetti, D Odiete.
Ulster v Zebre,
Live, BBC 2, 7.05