Thursday 19 April 2018

Anscombe urges Ulster to take control of destiny

Ruan Pienaar will be hoping to help Ulster overcome Treviso at Ravenhill
Ruan Pienaar will be hoping to help Ulster overcome Treviso at Ravenhill
David Kelly

David Kelly

On current form and given their present status, it is not a wild overstatement to pronounce that Ulster, who have enjoyed the best Heineken Cup opening of any Irish province, are the best placed to win the competition.

With two wins on the board, including their greatest away victory in Montpellier, they now embark upon a tasty double-header which, given their exalted status, should produce a prime harvest of at least nine points.

Mindful of a trip to Welford Road to come, and cognisant that they let Leicester grab a bonus point in round one, this is the minimum requirement against Treviso.

The Italians have upset Ulster around these parts, both winning and snatching a draw in Belfast, but their current form militates against any conceivable possibility of a repeat.

That would set up Ulster for a two-game run-in – effectively just one, given that Montpellier will bring a white towel to Belfast in January – to secure the vital home quarter-final they sloppily conceded last term.

Thus, this pool will come down to a Welford Road shoot-out against Leicester – with the winners of that mouthwatering contest already eyeing up a possible semi-final appearance.

Injuries are the only vagary as this passage presents itself invitingly for Ulster – since their recent league win against this opposition, key personalities such as Tommy Bowe, Chris Henry, Rory Best and Iain Henderson have been shunted into casualty, while the absence of Nick Williams' ball-carrying ballast is also a big loss.

An inability to cope with a steady haemorrhaging of crocks last season ultimately undid their European aspirations. They cannot afford a repeat and, with Johann Muller, Jared Payne and Ruan Pienaar back to bolster the ranks, they can at least escape unscathed this month.

"It's a very tricky fortnight," declaims coach Mark Anscombe. "They're a team that we respect enormously. If you look at last season, they were the most improved team.

"It hasn't worked out for one reason or another this term, but that doesn't mean that they can't turn that around in a week. They've got quality internationals, a good coaching staff. They've come here to Ravenhill in the last couple of seasons and managed to do a good job on us.

"It's reasonably early in the season though and they can still put things right. They'll be looking at this week thinking they can trip us up and then take us at home."

Despite Pienaar's return, Paddy Jackson will assume all but the long-range place-kicking duties, arguably a welcome relief to the scrum-half after his horror show against Scarlets on his last Ulster appearance.

The abrasive groundhog Sean Doyle is an interesting inclusion at openside, clearly indicating the tempo that the home side will be hoping to deploy.

And the fact that Darren Cave still retains the midfield berth ahead of the returning Payne, is a vote of confidence in the Holywood man.


It is difficult to know where Treviso's head space may be, particularly after Franco Smith decided this week to step away from his coaching role six months ahead of schedule.

Captain Antonio Pavanello returns to the second-row in place of Marco Fuser, Robert Barbieri replaces the injured Manoa Vosawai at No 8 as they shape up to the side who dropped points at home to Cardiff last week.

Behind the scrum, Edoardo Gori comes in at scrum-half with Tobias Botes dropping to the bench, while Alberto Sgarbi and Luke McLean are drafted in to replace Christian Loamanu and Brendan Williams respectively.

"We've had two good results so far and that's as good as it gets," says Anscombe. "We have to back that up now. If we get two wins out of this fortnight we'll be looking good, but we know there's a lot of hard work before that can be achieved."

Hard work is the least that should be expected of them. Their quality will deliver the rest.

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster – J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave. L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Herring, J Afoa, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, R Diack, S Doyle, R Wilson Reps: N Annett, C Black, D Fitzpatrick, N McComb, M McComish, P Marshall, M Allen, D McIlwaine.

Benetton Treviso – L McLean; L Nitoglia, M Campagnaro, A Sgarbi, A Esposito; M Berquist, E Gori; R Barbieri, D Budd, A Zanni, C Van Zyl, A Pavanello, L Cittadini, L Ghiraldini, A De Marchi Reps: F Sbaraglini, M Rizzo, I Fernandez-Rouyet, P Derbyshire, M Filippucci, C Loamanu, T Botes, J Ambrosini.

Ref – L Pearce (RFU)

Ulster v Treviso,

Live, Sky Sports 2 (Red Button), 6.0

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