Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Tyrone Howe: McLaughlin’s men should have plenty left in tank

Leaving Ravenhill, you could have been forgiven for assuming that quarter-final qualification was in the bag.

However, as the other results filtered through, the dark clouds of anti-climax loomed.

In particular, the Edinburgh victory over Racing Metro in Paris with the last kick of the game twisted the knife.

Brian McLaughlin’s men are now faced with arguably the biggest task in European rugby.

How hard a task is this? Well, all you need to know is that Clermont have won their last 36 matches at Stade Marcel Michelin since Biarritz won there 16-13 on November 21, 2009.

This is their only home defeat since October 2008. By anyone’s reckoning, to win there is a heck of a task.

But that is exactly what Ulster have to do — there is no point travelling with the notion of a losing bonus point.

It will take exactly the same sort of effort, intensity and accuracy to get a win as it will a bonus point, so you may as well journey with one goal in mind — victory.

The odds will obviously favour Clermont, but one key aspect gives me real optimism.

The game against Leicester Tigers was facile and there was no need to summon up the emotion required to push for victory in the final minutes.

Physically, the players should be in fine shape, and mentally the well should still be full.

This Saturday will be as much a test of Ulster’s self-belief as it will be of their rugby credentials.

Win and every team in Europe will fear Ulster. That is a prize worth fighting for.

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