Anscombe knows exploiting home advantage crucial
Mark Anscombe may not have been involved in any previous Heineken Cup campaigns, but he knows enough about what they involve to understand the importance of winning your home games.
So it will be with that in mind that he names his starters and replacements to face Castres Olympique at Ravenhill on Friday night (8.00pm).
Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and No 8 Nick Williams have been included in his provisional 27-man squad.
Whether or not Pienaar starts is a huge decision Anscombe must make, the pivot having just returned from an exhausting nine weeks of Four Nations Tournament duty with the Springboks.
Meanwhile, Williams is hoping the rib injury he picked up in the dying minutes of Friday night’s 25-0 RaboDirect PRO12 victory over Connacht does not prevent him playing. Ulster will give him every chance of making it.
Anscombe — nursing an absolute monster of a cold — was typically defensive in handling questions about his line-up.
With Williams a doubt, fellow-No 8 Roger Wilson still sidelined by a serious hamstring tear and open-side Sean Doyle having suffered a fibula break at the weekend, Ulster’s back row options have been curtailed.
Even so, Anscombe remains confident that those who are available will be up to the job.
Asked he was happy he will have a back row capable of delivering on Friday night, he replied: “Yip. Oh yip.”
Asked if Wilson had been close to making it, his answer was: “Yip, he was.”
And pressed as to Pienaar’s state of health, both mental and physical, Anscombe said: “That’s a big call. He’s a world-class player but he hasn’t been with us all year.” The inclusion of that possibly qualifying word ‘but’ may prove significant.
“We’ve got to make sure everyone is on song and at the level we need them to be for a game like this,” Anscombe continued. “Ruan has put in some miles these past few weeks and he has been living in hotels.
“At the end of the day, before he left last time, I said to him that I’d do the right thing for him. It’s important that it’s right for him and for the team, too.”
Having a home game first up is a huge plus, particularly given Ulster’s Ravenhill pedigree and Castres’s poor form on the road. To date their away record is played four, lost three, drawn one.
“I’d far rather have them here than over there after seeing their performance at the weekend,” was how Anscombe read Castres’s 16-13 win against Clermont. “Bottom line is we’re going to have to be on top of our game — that’s the challenge.”