Good, but Ulster can get better: McLaughlin
When, back in June, Brian McLaughlin was unveiled as Ulster’s coach, a man who knows him better than most said that the high standards the new man demands of himself would provide all the motivation required to do the job well.
Seven months into McLaughlin’s tenure, the accuracy of Nigel Carr’s prophetic words is plain to be seen.
Ulster’s head coach is not a man given to accepting second best. So it tallies that when asked if, back in June 2009, he had been offered Ulster’s current Magners League and Heineken Cup positions would he have accepted, McLaughlin’s response is of the “Thanks but no thanks” variety.
“Anybody who knows me knows I would have wanted more. I like to win and I like those around me — coaching staff and players – to have that attitude, too,” he says.
Significantly McLaughlin reveals he feels Ulster are close to achieving a long awaited away win in the Heineken Cup.
“I think that elusive away win in Europe isn’t far away. I’d be hopeful of achieving that in the very near future,” he confirms.
The only fixture that fits that “very near future” description is Ulster’s trip to The Rec for a January 23 date with Bath. Interesting.
Ahead of that, of course, is Friday night's Ravenhill clash with Edinburgh, which will be the Celtic cousins’ third encounter in four months.
To date the Scots have shaded the verdicts. In mid-September they beat Ulster 16-13 in a hard-fought Magners League match in Belfast.
Four weeks later, when the rivals met at Murrayfield in the Heineken Cup, the Scots shaded the honours by a 17-13 margin.
Both were matches Ulster might well have won. Indeed, one is tempted to suggest that were the
same circumstances to repeat themselves, McLaughlin’s still-maturing young side would now emerge with greater reward than a losers’ bonus point.
The coach knows where Ulster have fallen short —a lack of ruthlessness coupled with inconsistency.
Asked to adjudicate on things as they stand he replies: “As a teacher, if I was writing a report on our first term’s work I’d say ‘satisfactory, but plenty of work still to be done.’
“I’m not happy with our consistency,” he continues. “We have lost games in which we should have done better. We have shown our inexperience in not picking up bonuses in some of those — away to Munster and Leinster and at home to Glasgow. So we aren’t where we want to be in the Magners League as a result.
“And in the European Cup, we’re in a position where we have to rely on others if we’re to make it out of our group and into the knockout stage.
“So while I believe we are progressing, we’re very aware that there’s still a lot of hard work to be done if we’re to be where we want to be.
“That’s why I was pleased with our win against Munster in our last match.
“We didn’t play well, but we managed to get a result and I don’t think we would have got in the past.
“But we could have had more from that game. We were 15-0 up at the end of the first quarter having scored two tries.
“A more experienced side would have taken that game by the scruff of the neck and gone for a bonus. We didn’t do that.
“And we allowed Munster to leave with a bonus we could have denied them.
“In other words, we lost out on a point for ourselves and we gave them one. So while we’re moving in the right direction we need to learn to be more ruthless.”
To date McLaughlin’s men have won both of their European jousts at Ravenhill, with Bath and Stade Francais put to the sword.
A hat-trick in the form of victory over Edinburgh is vital if they are to keep that Heineken Cup dream alive.