Ulster's pleasure at having beaten Bath on Saturday in the first of their back-to-back Heineken Cup meetings was quickly consigned to the ‘unfinished business’ pile.
They know that for it to count towards something significant they now have to match last week’s result this Saturday at the Recreation Ground.
Ulster lock Dan Tuohy feels the situation this weekend is pretty much the same as when McLaughlin’s side went to The Rec last January.
“Last season we had to perform there and I don’t think it’s any different this time just because it’s our fourth match in the group rather than our sixth.
“It was a must-win game then and it’s another must-win game now. We can go there with a lot of confidence. We’ve shown them a lot of respect each time we’ve played them and we’ll be doing that again.
“We’ve just got to match their physicality and do the business. “Really it’s up to us.”
He also believes that Aironi’s victory over Biarritz “really doesn’t change a lot from our perspective”.
“You’d back Biarritz to get a bonus point win at home this weekend, no disrespect to Aironi. So if we win this game (in Bath) and then manage to do a job against Biarritz at home, that could leave us on 17 points — same as last year — going to Aironi,” he said,
“I think 19-20 is the sort of total you’re going to be looking for — and the more bonus points the better. Bonuses could play a big part in things.”
Ulster have named all of those who were involved in the Ravenhill success, with coach Brian McLaughlin hinting that there is little likelihood of changes. If there
are any, it will be because some seemingly minor injury proved more serious than first thought.
Five of those who faced Bath in the first installment picked up knocks.
Hooker Nigel Brady has a swollen knee, flanker Stephen Ferris — man of the match last weekend — complained of a slight tightness in his right calf, fellow-back row forward Chris Henry twisted an ankle, wing Andrew Trimble had cramp in a calf during the game and fly-half Ian Humphreys, who kicked 17 of Ulster’s points in their 22-18 victory, suffered a slight dead leg.
Ferris, Henry, Trimble and Humphreys were expected to resume training today, with Brady likely to require further treatment before he is able to join the squad.
McLaughlin was blunt when it came to putting things in context.
“If we want to go to the quarter-finals then we’ve got to win this weekend, it’s as simple as that,” was his frank assessment.
Unlike last year when they went to Bath and won, this time Ulster have control of their own destiny.
If they beat Bath, Biarritz in Belfast and Aironi in Italy in what will be their final Pool 4 game, Ulster will be in the last eight.
At this stage they are not dependent on anyone for favours or on results elsewhere going their way.
And although Aironi’s unex
pected home win against Biarritz has given Bath a glimmer of hope, McLaughlin sees no negatives in that.
“If it had been left that Biarritz had got their five points (from Aironi) they would have shot on ahead and then we’d have been left fighting for a runners-up place.
“And as was proven last season you cannot rely on a runners-up place or you end up in despair as we did after our Bath game last year,” he recalled.
But McLaughlin’s Bath counterpart, Steve Meehan, feels Aironi’s victory has given his twice-beaten side a lifeline, albeit a slender one, of progressing.
“It’s 11, nine and seven points,” he said, referring to the totals amassed by Biarritz, Ulster and Bath respectively.
“So it’s anyone’s ball game with three matches to play.”
Even if they were to win all three — Ulster and Aironi at home and Biarritz away in the last game — Bath would end up with only four victories, probably insufficient to take them through.
The ball is very much in Ulster’s court this weekend.