Belfast Telegraph

Victory in Wales a must to keep European hopes alive

By Michael Sadlier

You might have thought the post-match analysis of last Saturday's bonus point win over the Scarlets would have had a certain downbeat feel to it, thanks to Ulster's expanding injury issues, but there was still some levity in proceedings as footage of Rory Best's try was viewed by the squad.

It came about as the pack launched a maul off a close-in lineout, with their momentum being added to by the late arrival of several backs to throw their bodies into the effort as Ulster rumbled over the Scarlets' line for that vital fourth and bonus-yielding try.

It's not entirely unusual for this to happen but, clearly, last Saturday's brief incursion into the dark world of forward play brought it's fair share of comment from those who regularly practice the art towards those who had just decided to join in.

"I re-looked at it," says Dan Tuohy with a wide smile of the team's video session before zooming in on Tommy Bowe's contribution with the winger arriving right at the back just as the bodies tumbled over the Scarlets' line.

"Tommy's effort is absolutely pathetic and it's actually quite funny," says the Bristol-born second row while not going quite as far as Declan Fitzpatrick who reckoned Bowe looked as if he was on Dancing On Ice.

But the in-house humour dispensed with, Tuohy gets down to business and what now needs to be done tomorrow if Ulster are going to come out of their back-to-back clashes with the Scarlets with two victories to keep their interest in a healthy-looking place going into the last two pool games in January, away to Toulon then home to the Tigers.

"Good teams that win cups maul well," states Tuohy with probably more than a nod towards Ulster's PRO12 prospects than their actual hopes of European triumph.

"It's a horrible weapon and I have been on the receiving end a few times before, they are a nightmare to defend and it is something we are looking to hammer this year."

So, expect more of the same tomorrow and then the 29-year-old becomes typically direct about what is needed from the side's second visit to Parc y Scarlets this season following their last-gasp 32-32 draw there in September when Tuohy was on the scoresheet.

"The Scarlets aren't Toulon, we play them regularly in the league and no disrespect (to them) but they are not a top team in Europe," he states.

"If we want to win the European Cup we have got to go away to Scarlets and beat them and if we don't that probably means we are not good enough to win the European Cup."

And the nine-times capped Ireland player, whose contract is due to expire at the end of the season, has never been one for shirking what needs to be said.

"We (he and team manager Bryn Cunningham) have been talking but I just wanted to get back fit to play and to show what I could bring to the team. It is tough to try and negotiate your future when you're scratching yourself in the gym," he points out.

And with having spent pretty much the last three months recovering from a broken arm - last Saturday's was Tuohy's first game back and he is keeping the plate inserted just to just get back on the park and in contention for the Six Nations - he is not only eager to be playing again but also, you sense, to get that future secured.

"I still think we'll probably have to win in Toulon," he adds while dissecting the, admittedly, remote chances of qualification for the fifth straight year.

"But I would be confident of beating Leicester at home if it comes down to it. I think we have enough in the armoury to do that, and I think who ever loses in our game (with the Scarlets) that is them done and dusted because we are both already on one win and two losses."

And just in case you reckoned that Tuohy was perhaps underestimating the nature of tomorrow's challenge, when an injury-hit Ulster go in search of an essential result, the player closing in on his 120th appearance for his adopted province lobs in a few reminders of what is coming the visitors' way.

"The Scarlets have not lost at home this year (in the PRO12 and Europe but with one defeat shipped in the lesser LV Cup) and you have to get your head around the fact that you are playing the same team again except this time with a few injuries.

"So, we have to have a professional mentality this weekend. But, we have had mixed success with the back-to-back games," he adds.

"I remember playing Northampton a couple of years ago; we got the bonus point away they came here with not as strong a team and actually turned us over."

And on the subject of being turned over, Tuohy recalls losing possession to the Scarlets' openside flanker James Davies during last Saturday's game and what a handful number eight Rory Pitman proved to be.

However, Tuohy stepped up as well on his first game back and he came out on top as Ulster's leading ball-carrier and main lineout target with the figure 11 beside his name in both areas on what was an unintended 80-minute performance but one necessitated by Franco van der Merwe's injury.

"It was good to get myself in that position," he said of last weekend's statistical breakdown.

"It was pleasing to get those stats. They are all nice to have but the win is the most important thing," he added.

And now for another one.

Belfast Telegraph

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