Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Rugby determined to show their quality against Toulon

European Champions Cup

By Jonathan Bradley

Despite Ulster's chances of extending their Champions Cup campaign appearing to be all but over, Stuart Olding believes that Saturday's contest with back-to-back champions Toulon will still provide an opportunity to get the season back on track.

Ulster have lost three of their four games in Pool 3 and are still outside the PRO12 play-off positions, even after last Sunday's unconvincing win over Treviso in northern Italy.

According to Olding, however, a positive performance in the intimidating atmosphere of the Stade Mayol, and then seven days later against Leicester Tigers at the Kingspan Stadium, would go a long way to restoring confidence.

"The old cliché of if you want to be the best you have to play the best is actually true," said the 21-year-old.

"Definitely if we can put in performances against two sides the size of Toulon and Leicester then that will give the guys a huge boost and show the talent that we do have up here.

"If we can do that then we can build on that in the league."

In recent seasons, Ulster fans would have been gearing up for a big pair of January European clashes weeks in advance, often distracting attention away from the PRO12, but Olding says that the build-up to the recent games against Leinster and Treviso has been no different than usual.

The two-times capped centre said: "People maybe think that because we're focusing on the league that it's changed the build-up, but not really.

"With regards to Europe, we've been focusing on Leinster and Treviso but that's always the attitude that we have.

"The next game is the important one and that's what you think about, not too far ahead into the future."

Now, of course, that next game is Toulon and Olding is relishing the chance to go toe to toe with the glamorous outfit from the south of France once again.

Ulster lost the reverse fixture 23-13 back in October - with Olding receiving a boot to the head from Toulon lock Romain Taofifenua for his trouble - but the youngster enjoyed the experience.

"We played against them the first time and it was probably the toughest game I've ever played, just the quality of players they have and the sheer size of them," said the former Belfast Royal Academy pupil.

"It was incredible to play against the back-to-back champions and the best club team in the world but that's where you want to be."

The game was originally scheduled for the Allianz Rivera Stadium in Nice but was switched to the more modest confines of Toulon's home ground after Ulster's defeat to Scarlets, and the atmosphere should at least be raucous.

"I've never played in Toulon but from watching games on TV it looks like a great atmosphere. The guy at the start gets the crowd worked up, and they're so passionate about it down there. I'd say it'll be a different experience to what we've been used to."

While defeat would finally put paid to any mathematical chance of progression, Olding states that there will be no alarm should their run of four consecutive quarter-final places come to an end.

"It seems silly to say but we could have won all four games really. We had chances but didn't take them. With the quality of players that we have, the coaches, and the facilities, there's not going to be a panic.

"We had a little dip but I think there's a huge determination among the players to get back to winning ways and when we do go on a bit of a run, hopefully we'll build on it and go from there."

While Europe may be gone for this season, with six teams seemingly vying for the PRO12's top four, now would be a more than welcome time to start.

Read more:

Rory Best: Ulster will take positives from display against Treviso 

A nervy finish for Ulster against Treviso 

Paddy Jackson is determined to secure Six Nations joy 

Scarratt wins Writers' Club award 

Kruis cited for tip tackle 

Joseph pens new Bath deal 

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