Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Tyrone Howe: Scrum areas to improve on in quest for Heineken Cup success

The one aspect that gave surprising cause for concern for Ulster last Friday night was the scrum — an area which has become one of genuine strength for the team over the last two or three seasons.

Unusually, it wobbled and yielded several penalties for the opposition. Yet, being able to pinpoint a specific area for improvement will ensure that Ulster pitch up at Franklins Gardens to take on Northampton in early December without any element of complacency.

One suspected that against Glasgow, the Ulster pack knew that they had the upper hand and simply took a while to get their act together.

They took what Glasgow had to throw at them before fully lowering the boom and delivering the knockout punch.

Maybe concentration was not quite as sharp from the start of the game as it might have been. One thing is certain, it needs to be when Ulster visit Northampton on their next date with destiny in the Heineken Cup.

It is a tremendous achievement that, whoever has taken the pitch, Ulster are still unbeaten, but the team has arguably got to the stage of not having to tick every box to come away with victories. The team really needs to be tested.

Two specific elements now provide this test.

During the next period, which includes the autumn internationals, fringe players will want to keep winning and further confirm the quality and depth of this Ulster squad.

The aim will be to ensure that Ulster stay at the top of the PRO12 and that Mark Anscombe has a selection nightmare by the time the Heineken Cup starts again.

Secondly, the injury sustained by captain Johann Muller (left) throws down the gauntlet to the rest of the squad to function without his superb leadership.

This is easier said than done and it will be interesting to observe who steps up most, both in terms of his direct replacement and also leadership on the pitch.

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