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Doak wants to put brake on scoring machine

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 26/12/2015

Talking tactics: Neil Doak is wary of Connacht’s threat
Talking tactics: Neil Doak is wary of Connacht’s threat

For a head coach who forged his reputation by instilling an ethos of attacking rugby, Ulster's Neil Doak sees much that he likes in today's opponents Connacht (6pm kick-off).

The western province have enjoyed a flying start to the season and sit behind only leaders Scarlets in the Guinness Pro12 table.

Having led for much of the way, and still in charge of their own destiny in the Challenge Cup, a little shine has been taken off the stellar campaign in recent weeks after losing two of their last three in all competitions thanks to an injury crisis that saw them name only seven replacements in last week's away loss to Newcastle Falcons.

Those concerns have eased slightly over the last week and Doak has concerned himself with halting an attack that has scored more tries than anyone else in the Pro12.

"The last number of years they've just been growing and growing," he said.

"They've brought in a number of top players to bolster that squad and the local boys they have and it's the type of rugby they play that really challenges you.

"They score a lot of tries, they're right up there at the top of the league for a reason, and they've been really, really impressive. Look, it's a big challenge."

Ulster have a fine recent record against their interprovincial rivals - Connacht have beaten their northern neighbours just once since 2005 - but Doak sees Pat Lam's men, who sit six points ahead in the table, as both a growing force and a wholly different proposition to years gone by.

"Over the last couple of years, they've been a challenge for us and it's getting more and more each year," said Doak.

"They play a brand of rugby that really, really challenges you with ball in hand. This is a great start for them, they want to keep that momentum.

"We want to stop that momentum, it's as simple as that.

"Going to Galway, it's a difficult one every year and we've not had it at Christmas for a while.

"You have to keep mentally fresh in the players. Hopefully it's another good performance."

For a coach who rarely lets a spare moment pass without analysing upcoming opposition on his laptop, Connacht's injury crisis, with as many as 13 of their squad doubtful during the week, has presented something of a challenge.

He said: "It can be difficult week in, week out when you get a lot of chopping and changing and like everyone else this time of year there'll be a lot of changes.

"We try and analyse the opposition to identify the key players and what's working for them but that's a bit tough when a high percentage of the time there's rotation.

"People will come in and go out and it can be difficult but you're just looking to the principles.

"Most teams will stick to the same principles and strategies, what they're comfortable with, no matter who they have playing.

"What we have to do is identify those and be primed to pick up on the cues. Like ourselves, they'll be tinkering to try and hide those from us."

"For Connacht that means playing with a bit of style and we'll have to be good defensively which thankfully we have been."

Riding a three-game winning streak, and having the chance to win back-to-back league games for the first time this season, victory would see Ulster build on the notable pair of Champions Cup wins over Toulouse with Doak calling on his side to maintain their current upward trajectory.

"It was a great two weeks for us," said Doak. "Like most coaches though, 10 minutes after the game we've moved on very quickly and we're onto the next one.

"Now what you're looking for is that consistency and this is a massive challenge."

Belfast Telegraph

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