Sunday 17 December 2017

This week is execution time, warns Anscombe

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe: 'Saturday night is going to go down as an event in Ulster's history - we just have to make sure it's remembered for all the right reasons'
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe: 'Saturday night is going to go down as an event in Ulster's history - we just have to make sure it's remembered for all the right reasons'
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The arena is almost complete and it appears the orchestra will be fully in place for the grand unveiling.

And the good news from Ravenhill yesterday was that the conductor, Ruan Pienaar, should be there to play his part as Mark Anscombe gave a positive update on the inspirational Springbok's shoulder injury.

Ravenhill looks better than ever this week as a team of workmen put the finishing touches to the final piece of Ulster's jigsaw for the big unveiling on Saturday night.

To enter into a Heineken Cup quarter-final against opponents as good as Saracens without Pienaar would be unthinkable for the northern province and that the bulletin was positive will come as a big relief to the fans who will pack out the Belfast venue on Saturday night.


A year on from the humbling exit at the hands of the Londoners at Twickenham last year, coach Anscombe reckons his squad is in a better place.

That's despite the fact that last season's build-up included an impressive away win over Leinster which was in stark contrast with last Saturday's defeat at Cardiff Blues.

Still, with Rory Best and Pienaar likely to be back on board, a game under the belt for Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy and Tommy Bowe, and the likes of Andrew Trimble and Chris Henry firmly back to earth after their Paris heroics, there is a mood of real intent around Belfast this weekend.

With the recently returned Stephen Ferris likely to be used as an impact sub and crowd-lifter-in-chief, there is a clear plan of action in place.

Among a variety of undercurrents is the end-of-season departure list which includes Muller, John Afoa and Tom Court and after four years of progress, there is a desire to deliver.

The stands may be almost complete, but some on-pitch rebuilding will take place next season, so this could be the best chance yet for a team who have reached European and Pro12 finals without getting any silverware to finally get over the line.

That will be at the back of their minds, but as Anscombe says, the clash with Sarries will be significant no matter what.

"Saturday night is going to go down as an event in Ulster's history in the sense that it's the opening of the ground, the first home quarter-final – it'll be remembered and we just have to make sure it's remembered for all the right reasons," he said.

"It's going to be a special night, we've got to embrace that and enjoy it. You have to enjoy your successes, you have to enjoy the challenge of playing in big games because if you don't enjoy them then why are you doing it?"

There is a steely determination to the New Zealander right now that he will hope feeds through to his players. Saracens are top of the English Premiership by seven points and won the reverse fixture at the same stage last season, although the home advantage is likely to count for a lot.

"It's a one-off," Anscombe said. "All the games so far this year have been games in the Pro12 which is collective and then pool rugby, which is six games and the top two pull through.

"The difference is that this week is execution time. Only the winning team goes through, you're gone, there's no second chances and that always adds an edge to a game.

"We've done our job, we've got a home quarter-final and qualified unbeaten which we've never done before. It would be disappointing and upsetting if we surrender that mildly here at home.

"We don't intend to, the fact is that we worked hard to get a home quarter-final and we want to show what we're about and we believe in ourselves to be where we aspire to get to."

Team selection will largely look after itself with the returning Irish players improving a side which, until their hiccup in Cardiff last weekend, had travelled nicely through the Six Nations window.

Amid the joy that followed the Six Nations win, the return of Ferris was a further good news story, but there are still kid gloves being applied to the battle-scarred blindside.


As he adds to his workload, week-to-week the confidence grows, but Saturday night will be a step up in class.

Is he ready?

"Good question," Anscombe replied. "We are hoping that he will get through what we need him to, you know, to do a job. Sometimes you may not necessarily be 100pc and be where you want to be. It's amazing what experience can do too.

"When you have been there and done it before, what you can do to the players beside you, when a player turns around and sees Stevie Ferris beside him or turns around and see Joe Blogs, it can have a major effect."


Jackson man in middle

Former Saracens out-half Glen Jackson will be the man in the middle when Ireland take on Argentina in the first Test of their summer tour in Resistencia on June 7.

French official Pascal Gauzere will take charge of the second meeting at Tucuman a week later as the IRB unveiled their referees' summer schedule yesterday.

Irish duo George Clancy and John Lacey will both be involved during the June games, with former Munster winger Lacey in charge of the clashes between Japan and Samoa and Argentina's meeting with Scotland, and Clancy handed the meeting of Samoa and Italy in Apia.

Irish Independent

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