Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Rejuvenated starlets can help Ulster hit their peak

How has the Six Nations affected Ulster's chances for the rest of the season? Its young international players, despite the disappointments, will have enjoyed the last two months.

Several are a couple of caps to the better with a spring in their step. They are now part of an exclusive club.

It is important that they hit the ground running. Like Ireland, Ulster have been hit by injuries and seem to be struggling to get out of a trough and slight crisis of confidence.

The injection of youth and enthusiasm will hopefully be enough to kickstart the season again.

The Heineken Cup quarter-final takes place in just over a fortnight's time with only two opportunities to get the combinations working together again, get some form and establish some much needed confidence. Edinburgh and Leinster are up first, and interestingly all three games are away from home.

This is not a bad thing – Ulster have prided themselves on their robust approach when leaving the gates of Ravenhill and it gets the players immediately into the mindset of what it takes when facing an away fixture.

Effectively, there are two dress rehearsals, albeit important in their own right, before Saracens at Twickenham.

Sarries face similar challenges – returning players who need to bounce back after the humiliation in Cardiff; returning to the fold where they will be made feel exceptionally welcome and encouraged to add immediate value.

Despite their table-topping position in the Premiership, fixtures against Harlequins and then away at Wasps will test their mettle.

The disappointment of Rome and Cardiff means that for both teams the Heineken Cup provides some sort of panacea for the hurt caused by the final Six Nations match.

While the next fortnight may be about getting players back on the pitch and getting the technical aspects in place, it will be as much about getting the players into the right mental state for a battle royal at Twickenham.

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