Ulster look to returning Slam stars for more consistency
With Iain Henderson and Six Nations player of the tournament Jacob Stockdale back to boost the side, head coach Jono Gibbes is looking for Ulster to start showing some consistency as their critical Guinness PRO14 run-in begins with this afternoon's trip to Cardiff.
While the losses came a month ago, the province have suffered back-to-back reverses and are fourth in PRO14's Conference B.
With the sides around them having picked up points, their position is precarious, with only five fixtures remaining.
The looming presence of Benetton - just six points back, and facing the hapless Kings in a game that will conclude just before Ulster run out in Cardiff - has left them sweating on their place in Europe's top tier next season.
Their current position of fourth would bring the solace of a play-off with the best-placed side in the opposite conference not already qualified for the Champions Cup - currently Connacht. Fall to fifth and a season in the Challenge Cup then becomes a certainty.
Unfortunately for the visitors to the Welsh capital, Cardiff have gained real momentum of late, winning their last four league games and eight out of ten when European competition is taken into account.
Gibbes has made it clear his side need to develop an all-too-often-absent consistent streak.
"I think it is consistency in everything," said the departing Kiwi.
"You guys see it within an 80-minute game and we can do some things really, really well, and then maybe have a lapse or something and we do not get that one key moment right and put pressure on ourselves.
"You will see in the same game against Scarlets last time there are nearly four-and-a-half minutes set in defence where we looked absolutely comfortable. There is no drama in that, but in the second half there are a couple of penalties which just allow Scarlets access, and so within that 80 minutes a bit of consistency would be good.
"I think those guys (Ireland players) coming in and the high standards they have, that will help the consistency and the preparation and the mentality each day they will prepare and come into that each building each day and compete."
Cardiff Blues - M Morgan; B Scully, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, O Lane; J Evans, T Williams; G Jenkins (capt), M Rees, S Andrews; G Earle, S Davies; J Turnbull, E Jenkins, N Williams. Reps: K Dacey, R Gill, D Lewis, B Murphy, M Cook, L Williams, S Shingler, G Smith .
ULSTER - C Piutau; C Gilroy, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; J McPhillips, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, W Herbst; A O'Connor (capt), K Treadwell; I Henderson, C Ross, N Timoney. Reps: J Andrew, C Black, R Kane, M Dalton, M Rea, D Shanahan, P Nelson, L Ludik.
REF - M Adamson (SRU)
- Cardiff Blues v Ulster, Live, Sky Sports Arena, 3.15