Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Ulster Rugby players urged to stand up and make it count

Brian McLaughlin is calling on his players to adhere to the words of the song which greets them each time they run out at Ravenhill.

Now, with the team playing a three-hour flight away from their Belfast stronghold, McLaughlin is reminding them of the need to stand up for themselves against Aironi.

“We can’t continue going down the line where we win one and then rest on our laurels which means we fail to back the thing up,” the Ulster coach says.

“We have to show that we have the ability to step up again, this week, next week and the week after that. We have to add to what we did against the Ospreys.”

Following Friday night’s morale-boosting Ravenhill win against Ospreys, McLaughlin watched Saturday evening’s televised Munster-Aironi clash at Musgrave Park with particular interest. He saw enough to let him know that the Italians, who went down 33-17 in Cork, pose a real threat to Ulster’s bid to register their first back-to-back wins at the start of a Magners League campaign in four years.

“Ospreys were very, very physical and these guys are exceptionally physical so we’re under no illusions. We know what we’re going to be up against in Italy and we’re going to have to deal with that,” he says.

“We just have to get back behind the desk and do the job again. While we enjoyed Friday night’s win, that has gone. Now we have to perform again.

“That’s the challenge, that’s our major aim this weekend — that we back up last week’s win.

“We talked all the way through pre-season of the importance of winning our first game and now, having done that, we are able to head to Aironi feeling positive.

“That’s the mood in which we are going, though I’d be a lot happier if we were coming home on Saturday night having backed up that Ravenhill win.

“This season we are going to have to prioritise games and players, so from that point of view it’s going to be a difficult campaign.”

With player availability limited under IRFU restrictions, much is going to depend on the contribution of Ulster’s non-Irish personnel in 2010/11.

But while supporters are delighted with Ulster’s most recent work in the transfer market, McLaughlin is quick to point to the fact that Aironi also have been particularly busy — and productive — on the recruitment front.

“They have made some very good signings and they have key men in key positions who keep them going well,” he says.

“Marco Bortolami keeps their line-out ticking over and Mercier Ludovic keeps them going forward. His kicking game is superb. Their scrum-half — Tito Tebaldi — is a smashing player too, a clinking little energiser. So they are going to be very tough opponents, no push-overs and we can be under no illusions about this one.”

But while McLaughlin is wholly respectful of the opposition, do not misinterpret that as fear. He knows that, provided they play as they can, Ulster should return with an away-day win, the emotion of the occasion notwithstanding.

And make no mistake, with this being the Italians’ first ever home game in the Magners League it will very be emotional for them.

Several weeks ago, when I met Aironi’s Director of Rugby, Franco Bernini, he told me: “We have waited a long time to play in the Magners League. At times it seemed it would never happen, so it will be a big night when Ulster come to Stadio Zaffanella.

“We Italians are emotional. I think there will be tears of joy and pride — some of them mine, maybe.”

Ulster must contend with that, blank it out and get on with the job. That is the goal, the challenge and the objective.

Latest Sport News

Stats Centre