Neil Doak backs Ulster to expose Toulon 'weaknesses'
IF Joe Schmidt is feeling the pain of losing twin three-quarter threats Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble for the forthcoming November internationals, his turmoil is magnified within an Ulster squad still reeling from last Saturday's bitterly disappointing reverse in Leicester.
Lose to the defending back-to-back champions Toulon in Belfast this weekend and the province's European campaign could be scuppered by 3.0 on Saturday afternoon.
Such is the enormous hole that Neil Doak's side have dug for themselves, notwithstanding the characteristic late retort which at least extricated an unlikely bonus point from the English midlands.
"Without a doubt it was three points lost," said Doak. "You have to remember we are not going into any game to lose or even get a token bonus point.
"We wanted to come away with a win, but unfortunately, like all rugby games, there was an opposition team that put us under a little pressure.
"I said to the guys afterwards in the changing-room that it was not what we wanted from that game, but we've got to take what we could, and then move on. But undoubtedly we were very disappointed with the result.
"We have just moved on quickly now and focused on Toulon. We will certainly take a lot of positives from that game at Welford Road.
"For example, when we had the ball we were very, very dangerous. As I said to the boys on Monday, we had six or seven opportunities around the edges when they were stretched and if we had had more vision, we could have capitalised more.
"So we know from that point of view that when we have the ball we can create opportunities and strike.
"We scored two quality tries against Leicester and it is a long, long time since we have scored two tries in a game and lost it.
"So from that point of view it was a little bit frustrating."
Chief amongst the introspection within the camp will be the focus on a lineout which, after a couple of dodgy Rory Best throws, utterly disintegrated, all the more rueful when Tommy Bowe's delightful score demonstrated the effectiveness of a working first phase.
"Look, Leicester picked off a few scraps and maybe read us early," countered Doak.
"When you look at it in isolation we won two lineouts then lost them with a forward pass and knock-on. Those little errors among others soon pile up and you lost momentum and are not able to control the tempo of the game.
"If you look at the game, there were 44 set-pieces in 80 minutes of rugby, it's hard to get any real flow to the game. But when we had flow, we created those opportunities and that's what we have to aim for this week."
Toulon, despite their near flawless record in European campaigns over two seasons, have demonstrated occasional fallibility, chiefly when losing in the modest surrounds of Cardiff last season.
For Ulster, it seems, once they can iron out their system flaws, there is some chink of light as they begin the quest for rare weaknesses within rugby's galacticos.
"Yeah of course there are weaknesses," admits Doak. "But there ain't a lot! But like every team, no matter how good, there are weaknesses in structures and in players, even the class players that they have.
"We have also a lot of experience, with Lions and seasoned internationals in our squad.
"So it's all about capitalising on those tiny weaknesses. Their players are used to playing in hostile occasions, in front of big crowds, but we will just have to try and intimidate them somehow in front of what should be a raucous crowd at Ravenhill.
"You play the game on grass, not on paper. No player likes pressure and we have to do that on both sides of the ball."