Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Tyrone Howe: In the pink but dark day ahead for the Parisians

Tyrone Howe

Waking up in the dark and driving home after work with the lights on, there can’t be too many who do not, to a certain extent, suffer from SAD.

Of course, we’re talking about Seasonally Affective Disorder — how one’s sense of well-being can be affected by the lack of sunlight hours.

Thank goodness, the shortest day is only round the corner. What great timing, also, that the Crown Princes of Parisian Pink are rolling into town this weekend, as Stade Francais bring their haute couture to Ravenhill once again.

It feels as if we know them so well — why wouldn’t we? They have played such an integral role in our rugby history.

The reverse is also true — they know us, but I’m really not sure that they like us that much.

Why?

Well, for a start, the flamboyant fashionistas don’t like our weather, and in their defence, who could blame them. Maybe they just are too conditioned to more salubrious surroundings, because they also don’t seem to like Ravenhill.

Victory has a nasty habit of eluding them there.

The challenge for Ulster is to make sure that this habit continues.

After the difficult weather conditions of last week’s defeat to Glasgow, the forecast is good for Saturday afternoon.

Whether this makes for a good forecast for Ulster from a rugby-playing point of view is a different subject entirely.

Make no mistake, these Stade boys can play.

However, forgetting the Glasgow game and the second half of the Heineken Cup fixture against Edinburgh, we have seen enough from the Ulster players already this season to know that our team also can play high quality rugby.

Whether rain or shine, the lessons for Brian McLaughlin’s men are clear, the basics need to be put back in place and accompanied by the sort of intensity that we associated with Ulster’s pre-Autumn International form.

Set-piece is therefore crucial. Whether Springbok BJ Botha turns out to be fit or not, the scrum needs to be rock solid.

Earlier on in this pool, Bath managed to hold their own against Stade and parity at scrumtime would be an achievement for Ulster.

The lineout is the area that probably needs most improvement, particularly after last week’s issues against Glasgow.

It is a collective responsibility rather than any one player’s fault but if problems arise, the forwards have to learn to adapt and improvise on the pitch. Whatever it takes, you have got to win your own ball.

As always, Stade will be favourites. However, sitting pretty at the top of the group and with an away win already in the bag, you just wonder how much real heart they will have for this game.

Ravenhill doesn’t do pretty and the partisan home supporters always seem to get to one or two of the Stade players.

Frustration sets in, heads go down, dummies start being spat out, and lo and behold, the game is there for the winning.

Whatever the weather is like, drawing on their past experiences, Stade Francais will be ready for Ulster to rain down a torrent of aggression and intensity. Virtuous and vicious cycles are similar in the sense that once started, they are hard to stop.

If Ulster can demoralise Stade, the current players have the potential to write their own chapter in Ulster’s rugby history book against one of the most distinctive sides in world rugby.

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