Monday 18 November 2019

Flying Ulster aim to stay grounded

David Kelly

David Kelly

SUCH is the confidence oozing from Ulster at the moment, some supporters are already pre-emptively eyeing up a Heineken Cup semi-final berth.

Halfway towards completing the domination of their pool, they deem themselves unbeatable at home, assuming the ERC allow them to play amidst the still-reduced capacity of Ravenhill.

For a side that spent a decade pining for even a sniff of the knockout stages, this sense of almost insuperable optimism could, potentially, steer an inevitable path that signposts hubris.

Mercifully, Mark Anscombe's quietly determined and intensely ambitious squad have swiftly assumed their own familiarly defensive armour.

"We're rolling out all the boring cliches today," laughs wing Andrew Trimble as he is alerted to the vaulting sense of desire now residing amongst their fans.

There were no swelled heads on show at Ulster's Newforge base yesterday.


Despite the evidence of last Friday's stunning bonus-point success against Northampton, complacency is a beast that even the greatest sporting minds have not always found a way to tame.

"Of course one does worry about it," declares Anscombe, as his side course a 14th successive win in this impressive unbeaten start to the season.

"It is a common trend for most teams around the place. I'm still working with these guys and finding out things about each other.

"We have addressed it, talked about it, and believed we have said the right things and asked the right questions. You just can't be complacent.

"It is a disease that hits teams at some stage and that can happen to us if we don't have our feet firmly on the ground. We must still be as hungry in ourselves in what we have set out to do.

"So in that way, it was very pleasing to hear that a team like Northampton, who pride themselves in being physical, were full of praise for our intensity.

"It shows that we did something right. But that was last week. Now it's how we prepare for the return that matters.

"Our challenge is how to repeat that performance. They are wounded, very wounded. We know a team like Northampton are going to storm back and it is going to be some game come Saturday night.

"We've got a lot of experience on board, and in itself the front-row has about 128 Test appearances behind them, the outside backs have over 50 caps. So there is a lot of experience in the team who have done these things before."

Some of that experience has been thieved from him after the loss of influential captain Johann Muller but, with Iain Henderson likely to be promoted to the second-row, with Nick Williams slotting into the blindside of the scrum, this season's squad are much better equipped to cope.

"The loss of Johann is massive," concedes Anscombe.

"He's an inspirational captain and experienced player. You don't lose players of that calibre without having an effect on the team.


"But we are confident that our strength in depth is strong. It will create a chance for someone else to come in and we will be fully supportive in the job they as is have to do.

"Henderson is an option for us to fill the void, as is Neil McComb, while Robbie Diack has played in the second-row a bit. So there are plenty of options to chose from for the balance of the team."

Anscombe admits there is a sense of expectancy following last week's result.

"There is a little pressure on us to repeat the success, particularly at home. We went there to Northampton expecting to do a job, and it will be expected again this week," he says.

"People outside our team didn't really expect us to win, but that doesn't affect us as a group.

"If we do things right as per our preparation and meeting the challenges that are ahead, it will be equally as fierce a battle as before.

"If we don't get the result we seek, then both Northampton and Castres come back into the competition.

"It means that we will go into Christmas being one of three teams to top the pool, and we certainly do not want to be in that position."

Irish Independent

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