Saturday 20 January 2018

Anscombe: Irish sides won't fall behind rich Euro rivals

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe is looking forward to the clash with Leinster
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe is looking forward to the clash with Leinster
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has deflected talk that the Irish provinces could be doomed to a few years in the European wilderness as a second successive Heineken Cup final takes place with no Irish involvement.

May's Cardiff final between Saracens and Toulon will mark only the second time in a decade that Irish clubs have been absent from the final for two years running, but the Kiwi has attempted to dampen any gloomy portents, despite the increasing riches of English and French rivals.

"We've been talking about this for the last two years, haven't we? It hasn't happened yet, has it?" argued Anscombe.

"Look at the wage bill of Toulon compared to us or the other Irish provinces; it's five times more, but Munster had the chances to beat them. It's not always about the dollars.

"In a lot of cases, it's about being smart about the players you go to. Their wages are so goddamn high because they have great players who demand those wages.


"Do they have a huge career in front of them? Probably not. I'm not saying they're not great players, but Munster could have beaten them last weekend, so that should offer huge encouragement to the rest of us."

Ulster's own European ambitions were thwarted in hugely controversial circumstances by Saracens in the quarter-final and the return of Jared Payne, sent off after five minutes for his mid-air tackle on Alex Goode, has reawakened the province's anguish.

Aside from the mental pain, there were also physical scars and although they romped to a bonus-point win against Connacht in their next outing, a costly reverse in Glasgow has left Ulster on the brink of elimination of the play-offs.

Having been sunk on their maiden European voyage in the new Ravenhill, it wouldn't do for Friday's grand opening of the Belfast venue to witness their last remaining semi-final chance drown on domestic detail.

"It is tight," Anscombe said of the play-off scramble which probably requires them to win their final two games, against Leinster and Munster, to secure a semi-final.

"It doesn't get any tougher than the run-in we have. But look, we know that if we win both games we're through. Each week you have to back yourself and prepare to win.

"We've had some great battles with Leinster down the years. The stadium is being launched and it's an exciting time. All we can prepare for is Friday night. If we lose, then that's basically our season over. If we win we're still in the hunt.

"That Glasgow game wasn't a fair indication of where we are to be fair. They got two tries that shouldn't have been awarded, we scored a try that wasn't. Did we deserve to win? Arguably not.

"But it could have been a different kettle of fish in those last 20 minutes had things worked out differently. We had some bum decisions going against us that day.

"We just must cut down on the errors which have been prevalent. Once you do that, you are building pressure on the opposition.

"We feel we will have a strong team out and we are playing on firm conditions and it will allow both teams to play some good rugby. Overall it will be a great occasion.

"Leinster enjoy throwing the ball about but let's be honest, we are pretty happy with the back line that we have. In reality it is two international back lines going against each other. That will be pretty special."

With the physical ramifications of that Saracens defeat continuing to take their toll, Anscombe will give players such as Ricky Lutton (back) and John Afoa (leg) every opportunity to prove their fitness before Friday's crunch tie.

Tom Court and Callum Black have been given the thumbs-up alongside hooker Rob Herring but Rory Best, Ruan Pienaar, Dan Tuohy and Robbie Diack probably won't play again this season, while Stephen Ferris won't be considered this week.

"Yes, we have a couple of injuries, but we will be very happy with the team we will put out on the night to do the job we want," insisted Anscombe.

"We know that Leinster are a class outfit. They have a big squad, a large Academy programme and generally a lot of players there of very high calibre.

"But that will mean nothing on Friday. It's a derby, the boys are really up for it, they are excited about it. These are the games that give them the chance to get one over their Irish team-mates."

Irish Independent

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