Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Defiant McCullough expects gloom to lift

Matt McCullough hopes Ulster can finally turn their season around

Ulster picked up their first away point of the season at Bourgoin last week and lock Matt McCullough is hoping the side can carry those signs of revival into the vital Irish derby against Connacht at the Sportsground on Friday night.

It's a basement battle with Ulster a point a drift at the foot of the table with Michael Bradley's men just a point in front and McCullough is ready for a hard night at the office.

"Having Connacht above us in the league is not ideal but at the end of the day whether they are ahead of us or below us is in our on hands," said McCullough.

"If we beat them we're above them and in a better position if they beat us there is going to be a lot of pressure on ourselves for the rest of the year.

"It's a simple script and everybody is aware of what needs to happen.

"Connacht are a very physical side and confrontational and it's a difficult place for referees to make hard decisions but everybody in our side is well used to it. The players are more confident after the weekend and I think all the players were reminded of the joys of playing rugby and are starting to appreciate that Ulster still have a lot of new players.

"We've shown over the last couple of weeks when we get it right we are still a good side."

After the turmoil of the last couple of weeks McCullough believes it's now up to the players to stand up and turn Ulster 's flagging season around.

"I've been around and grown up with all these players, so whatever the reason was the players weren't performing as well as they could.

"What happened over the last week meant it was solely down to the players to perform in Bourgoin and we done that well so it is up to us again to show all our class in Connacht this week.

"If the XV players go out and show how good they are we'll win the game. There is nothing wrong with the squad and there is nothing wrong with the way we play - it's just a matter of finding that performance from the players on the field but Connacht is a difficult place to find them performances."

Ulster's league form on the road doesn't make happy reading with no wins from four games and no points but McCullough feels if the side can reproduce the form they showed in the first half in France then they should be nothing to worry about.

"We played 30 or 40 minutes of the best rugby we played all year in Bourgoin and it is one of the most difficult stadiums in Europe to play in. I don't see the away form as being a problem at all, I think the XV players on the pitch whether home or away have to find a performance within themselves produce it on the field and win games."

With a third of the season gone Ulster are bottom of the league and while McCullough admits it will be a tall order to regain the title they won in 2006, a string of good results will see them shoot up the table.

"The thing about the Magners League is if we win the next two or three games we're up to mid table and at that point you're only a couple of wins from the top of the table.

"Getting to the top might be too far as the teams up there are playing superb rugby and won't lose too many games.

" The first goal is to get above Connacht this week and Edinburgh next week and if we can do that the league suddenly doesn't look so bleak."

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