Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's Neil Doak: It's tough for us to match big spenders

By Steven Beacom

Ulster Head Coach Neil Doak fronted up. His team may have suffered their heaviest European Cup defeat ever at the weekend, but come Monday, instead of hiding away, he faced the music.

The 42-year-old from Lisburn labelled the humbling 60-22 defeat to Toulon on Saturday as 'unacceptable', explained why he felt bottom of the table Ulster had gone backwards in Europe just one year after creating history by winning every group match, and spoke about why it is becoming harder for Irish provinces to compete at the top end of club rugby.

Doak, a former Irish cricket international who once caught and bowled West Indian great Brian Lara, also outlined, despite this season's woes, his intent to bring winning and entertaining rugby to the Kingspan Stadium.

Far from being defensive, which can often be the case amongst some Ulster Rugby bigwigs, Doak went on the attack, mirroring the way he wants to see his team play.

Asked if he was feeling the pressure, in what has been a disappointing first season as Head Coach, Doak replied: "There is a little more pressure now because I'm in charge. As a collective we aren't happy with how we are performing and that falls on to me, but my aims have not changed. With the help of the coaching staff and players, I want the team to be competitive, reach finals, win trophies and be at the forefront of European Rugby.

"And I want to do it with us playing with tempo and enthusiasm and ideally being entertaining. Over the last number of weeks, we have been trying to change the style we are trying to play.

"I do want to play a more attacking style, but I also realise you have to be smart in the way you play it because defences are very well organised these days."

Doak will tell you professional rugby is moving at a rapid rate. Ulster have looked miles behind at times in Europe this season, just a few years on from 2012 when they reached the final, losing to Leinster.

"We played really well then, but even from that time the game has moved on with bigger budgets and bigger squads," said Doak.

"In professional rugby right now the teams with the biggest budgets are winning European Cups. Yes we strive to be there, but in simple terms Toulon have maybe five times our budget and they are champions. That is potentially the level you need to go to."

Quizzed on whether the IRFU could do more to help Ulster and other Irish provinces, Doak said: "That's a difficult one. All the provinces are in a feeder system for the Ireland team. If resources were a little bit bigger and there was an avenue to bring in more international players like other clubs, that would certainly help.

"We are not a global team who can go out and buy whoever we like.

"There are constraints to what we are allowed to do. I suppose if you look at most other professional teams and when they pick up injuries, they go out and buy someone else. We have to try and work with the squad we have and also develop local talent which takes time."

Belfast Telegraph

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