Rob Penney: Ready for a bloody tough assignment in Kingsholm
We face two crucial weekends of Heineken Cup action in which we hope to secure a place in the quarter-finals.
In general, the management team were really happy with our form in the Pro12 over Christmas and the New Year. We basically had two different teams running against Scarlets and Connacht, but we still managed to get two wins over that period of time.
The Ulster result was disappointing, mainly because we know we are a better side than that. We didn't perform as well as we can. We understand why, but we are still very disappointed with the result. However, we are looking forward to getting ourselves back on track over the next couple of weeks with our ERC programme.
Despite defeat in Ravenhill, as always, there were some real positives to take from the trip. The first half did not go well for us, we made too many errors and played the game in the wrong areas of the field. Late in the half we managed to get some field position and scored a try off a nice set-piece move to give ourselves some semblance of hope.
With that hope, the guys really dug in, put Ulster under pressure and managed to get them back to four points at one stage.
It was great credit to our lads to achieve that, but we didn't finish the job when we had our foot on their throat. Ulster are a very good side and fully deserved their win, but we are looking forward to welcoming them to Thomond Park later in the season. We created some chances and didn't take all of them. They took theirs and that was the difference.
While our set-piece has operated pretty efficiently all year, our maul and line-out is going exceedingly well and our scrum is very competitive. These aspects of the game are something that is giving us a really good foundation. But there are other facets that are in need of some work -- our general attack is not as consistent as we'd like.
We are particularly pleased to have see some of the less experienced guys stepping up over the last block of games. Cathal Sheridan, Dave Foley, Barry O'Mahony, Duncan Casey, Niall Scannell, Sean Dougall, Johnny Holland, Ivan Dineen and Ronan O'Mahony all impressed us, while both James Cronin and John Ryan are building their bank of experience nicely and putting pressure on Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer.
Despite a foot injury, Damien Varley is not out of the equation for tomorrow's game. He got a really good report from the specialist, so he may well be selected. That would be a great boost as he is a hugely experienced player, but we have been really rapt with the way the other two guys have been going too. Duncan and Niall have both impressed us with their play since Mike Sherry's injury, so it is terrific to have some options in the position.
While Gloucester's home defeat to Saracens last weekend raised a few eyebrows, it must be remembered that Saracens are a class side and are difficult opponents for most teams. They are a powerful outfit and Gloucester managed to live with them for periods of the game, but just lacked a bit of consistency to get the result they were seeking. Gloucester are a capable side and if they play to their potential, they can be very dangerous.
We are sure Gloucester will be a different side this week. There has been plenty of discussion from their supporters and the media about their disappointment in how the side are going and it has also been noted that some of their past players are now starting to get on the bandwagon too.
I don't think anything hurts a player more than the criticism of from former club stalwarts. So that will be a massive motivation for Gloucester to prove a point, particularly as they also got beaten at home in their last ERC game against Edinburgh.
It's going to be a bloody tough assignment in Kingsholm. Our priority is to secure qualification for the Heineken Cup. That has to be the focus from everyone. then, if we do really well, a home quarter-final might be achieved.
Lastly, the lads who have missed selection for the Heineken Cup game this week have a very important couple of games in the British and Irish Cup.
The performances during these matches will be watched closely and, with injuries and illness always ready to strike, having quality depth across the squad is critical to ongoing success in both tournaments. All the best to Peter Malone and his team for the games.
We hope you all have a happy, successful and safe 2014.