Monday 23 April 2018

Ulster staring down barrel of Champions Cup exit in season of woe

Rory Best. Photo: Getty Images
Rory Best. Photo: Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

For Ulster Rugby, this has been a season which feels as if it has no ending.

But, if their suffering supporters might think that the sooner the curtain comes down the better, there may be more humiliation to come.

While Edinburgh may fancy their prospects of completing a quick-fire double to frank their revival under Richard Cockerill, Ulster may be more concerned with looking over their shoulder rather than casting forlorn glances at those ahead of them in Conference B.

Despite the fact that they have a game in hand on the Scots - one that will be played, with a touch of piquancy, on the weekend Munster and Leinster fly the Champions League flag for Ireland - Ulster could suffer more indignity as a result of what is coming down the tracks behind them.

Benetton's spring surge has put them in line to potentially over-take the Ulstermen in the table to sneak a Champions Cup play-off spot; with two of their remaining games against Zebre and Dragons, that remains more than a live possibility.

Ulster still have to face Munster and Glasgow in the run-in and a play-off - potentially against Connacht - might be their only route into Europe.

Rory Best returns to rally his fraught troops, wherein a smattering of youth, faintly, offers hope of brighter days ahead on the field at least.

Ireland U-20 prop Tom O'Toole leads the charge, debuting alongside Best in the front-row, while young Matt Dalton again pitches up in the second-row.

"It's still in our hands but we have to take it and we have to win," says wing Louis Ludik, in for the unavailable Craig Gilroy.

"Obviously, we'd like to be there (the Champions Cup) and it's such an amazing competition. It was entertaining over the weekend and a couple of teams played out of their skins."

He and his side must somehow perform when all around is chaos.

"Sometimes when a person is really under pressure, they perform. Maybe, it's how the human brain works," added Ludik. "When you're really under the pump that's when you really have to focus."

Edinburgh will qualify for the PRO14 play-offs if they win, as it seems they will.

Verdict: Edinburgh

Edinburgh - B Kinghorn; D Fife, M Bennett, P Burleigh, D van der Merwe; D Weir, S Hidalgo-Clyne; J Lay, S McInally, S Berghan; B Toolis, G Gilchrist; M Bradbury, J Ritchie, B Mata. Reps: N Cochrane, R Sutherland, WP Nel, L Carmichael, C du Prrez, S Kennedy, J van der Walt, C Dean.

Ulster - C Piutau; L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; J McPhillips, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Best (capt), T O'Toole; M Dalton, I Henderson; M Rea, N Timoney, J Deysel. Reps: R Herring, T O'Hagan, R Ah You, A O'Connor, S Reidy, D Shanahan, A Curtis, T Bowe.

Ref - Nigel Owens (WRU).

Edinburgh v Ulster, BT Murrayfield, 7.35pm, BBC NI

Irish Independent

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