Sunday 21 January 2018

Anscombe hails Ulster hunger for the battle

Treviso 3 Ulster 35

Ulster’s Craig Gilroy is tackled by Ludovico Nitoglia of Treviso during their Heineken Cup Pool 5 game
Ulster’s Craig Gilroy is tackled by Ludovico Nitoglia of Treviso during their Heineken Cup Pool 5 game

Ian Bransfield In Treviso

Of all the post-match comment emanating from the visiting dressing-room at the Stadio di Monigo on Saturday, it was perhaps Johann Muller's two cents' worth which best summed up Ulster's lot.

"With 20 minutes to go, we weren't even thinking about the bonus-point try," said the former Springbok. "We were just thinking about getting the win, and then getting the hell out of here."

Indeed, it had been that kind of day for the Pool 5 pace-setters, who arrived at the stadium shortly before lunch time to find that a blanket of impenetrable fog had settled just above ground level.

That, and a fired-up Treviso side meant that the going was considerably tougher than many among the travelling party had expected.

At one stage in the first half, with the scores locked at three apiece and half-time quickly approaching, an eerie feeling of disquiet seemed to collar the visiting fans up in the stands.

Could it be that the wheels of Ulster's European campaign were about to buckle at precisely the same juncture as they did last season?

Bang. Right on cue came the first of Ulster's four tries, scored by Luke Marshall after an inch-perfect grubber kick by man of the match Jared Payne.

It wasn't until the final quarter of the game, however, that the other three followed.

Predictably, Treviso had hit the self-destruct button by then, and found themselves with Brendan Williams and then Luke McLean sitting in the sin bin just when they needed all hands on deck.

ROUSING

In between, Craig Gilroy had scored Ulster's second, touching down out wide, with Robbie Diack promptly adding a third to set up a rousing endgame.

Fittingly, it was Payne who added the frosting two minutes from time, as if it had all somehow been scripted and the visitors' eventual stroll to victory was never in doubt.

Coach Mark Anscombe didn't agree. He was of the same mind as his captain. "The bonus point couldn't have been further away from my mind during that first half," he remarked.

"Even when we went 11-3 up, it was the last thing I was thinking about. At that stage, I'd have been more than happy for us to knock over another couple of penalties and get out of here with a 17-3 win."

Indeed, Anscombe really was rather chuffed to be going home with all five points, making it 10 in all this week, with 11 tries scored and -- interestingly -- none conceded.

"Conditions were tough and we were up against a team who wanted to prove a point," he continued.

"To come away with a bonus-point victory was really satisfying, not to mention the fact that we've gone two games without conceding a try.

"I mean, we had the game won and we were still fighting on our own try line to not let them in.

"Even in the 79th minute when the game was truly won, we still fought with the same commitment and desire so as not to concede a try.

"That attitude is the hallmark of any team, and I thought in that aspect we were outstanding."

It was a powerful performance and the result leaves Ulster very much in control of Pool 5 ahead of their two remaining matches in January.

The final one, against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, may end up deciding the group, and the omens for that crucial collision are pretty good.

Anscombe is confident that Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Chris Henry and Iain Henderson will all have returned from injury by then to augment the current stock.

Unfortunately it's still too early to even consider Stephen Ferris, though the party digest is that "he is training and progressing better than he has been for a long time".

Still, not a bad place to be from an Ulster perspective.

"Our destiny is in our own in hands now, and that's the way we wanted it," Anscombe went on.

"We want to win both our remaining games, but there are a lot of things that can happen between now and Welford Road so we have to worry about now before we worry about then.

"We now have to regroup after this and go back to the Pro12 for a couple of weeks. With that the intensity tends to drop a little bit, and that has been a bit of a hurdle for us in the past.

"All the games we have coming up are against some of the higher quality sides in Europe and it gives us a chance to test ourselves and see how good we actually are.

"So we'll enjoy tonight but will try to get our feet back on the ground and make sure that we do a job next week.

"We've set our standard now. We have to make sure we keep the bar at that level."

Treviso -- B Williams; E Gori, L Nitoglia, A Sgarbi, L McLean; A di Bernardo (J Ambrosini 60), T Botes; M Rizzo (A de Marchi 60), L Ghiraldini (G Maistri 63), L Cittadini (F Fernandez-Rouyet 63); A Pavanello (capt), C van Zyl (V Bernabo 60); A Zanni, M Vosawai (D Budd 60), R Barbieri (P Derbyshire 63)

Ulster -- J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 70); T Court (C Black 66), R Herring (N Annett 71), J Afoa (D Fitzpatrick 68); J Muller (capt) (N McComb 71), D Tuohy; R Diack (M McComish 71), S Doyle, R Wilson

Ref -- G Garner (RFU)

Irish Independent

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