Brian McLaughlin has described tonight’s Ulster versus Glasgow Warriors clash as “a hugely important game”. One can see why.
After tonight’s Ravenhill showdown, the Magners League moves out of the spotlight for a couple |of weeks.
That being the case, Ulster are anxious to exit stage left with another win to their credit so that when they return to action on that front on October 22 it will be as a club up among the pace-setters, on course for a top four finish and a place in next May’s semi-finals.
It would leave Ulster unbeaten since the season got underway, taking them to the Heineken Cup stage a week hence in a very positive frame of mind.
So with a top four League finish and a place in the Heineken Cup’s knock-out stage this season’s |targets, McLaughlin is right in describing tonight as “hugely important”.
Victory against Glasgow would keep his side on track for the first of those goals and set them up nicely for pursuit of the second.
Stir in the facts that tonight will see captain Rory Best win |his 100th Ulster cap and Springbok star Ruan Pienaar earn his first and the significance of the occasion grows.
With “one game at a time” nowadays being the mantra of coaches and players alike, it has not been surprising to find McLaughlin and his squad |members persisting with it this week. At this stage all eyes, they insist, are on Glasgow; time enough to fix their sights on Aironi once tonight’s business has been transacted.
But there are moments when it becomes obvious that Ulster — quite understandably— are finding it difficult to focus solely on the Glasgow game.
One such moment comes when McLaughlin confirms that Paddy Wallace will be playing in the centre following last weekend’s run at stand-off in compliance with a request from Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
“We’re playing him back in his normal position this week because we need to get a little continuity as we go into Europe, though there will be other times when we have to play him at 10,” McLaughlin says.
The Ulster coach was quick to turn his thoughts back to the first of the tasks, however. There was obvious respect as he spoke about tonight’s opponents, the fact that the Scots have lost each of the last three Magners League matches notwithstanding.
“We’ve always got to be very wary of Glasgow. They beat us twice last season, home and away and they are coming to Ravenhill with no fears.
“They have won three times in their last four visits, so we’re going to have to make sure that we’re on our mettle.
“We’ve got to continue to |improve — we’re all a bit |frustrated after last week’s game in Galway, because while we were very pleased to have come home with something, we know we can play a lot better than |we did last Saturday night,” says McLaughlin.
“This time we’re at Ravenhill with our home crowd behind us, so it’s an opportunity for us to turn in a first class display ahead of the Heineken Cup.
“We’re not taking anything for granted so far as Glasgow are concerned,” he adds quickly.
“Nor are we getting ahead |of ourselves so far as Europe’s concerned.
“We need to win this match because, number one, it’s at home and number two, because we want to stay in contention at the top of the Magners League.
“We’ve got to remain competitive at the top end of the Magners League. At the moment that’s the |priority; we’ll think about Europe after that.”
It says much for what Ulster now demand of themselves that they are not satisfied with three wins and a draw from four league starts, even though they admit they would have accepted that had it been offered at the start of the series. Now though, they are more ambitious.
“When you come to look at the Magners League table late on and you need one point to make it into the top four, you don’t want to be reflecting on lost chances and lost opportunities.
“That’s why it’s important that we take chances as and when they come.
“That has to be our focus against Glasgow,” McLaughlin stresses.