Ulster are gearing up for a do-or-die performance from Northampton Saints at Ravenhill on Saturday night (6pm).
The Aviva Premiership giants — now playing for their Heineken Cup lives — were stunned on Friday when Ulster trounced them 25-6 in the first of their two back-to-back Pool 4 clashes. Afterwards, skipper Dylan Hartley admitted his side had been unable to live with their guests’ speed and intensity.
But, in the wake of that four tries to nil drubbing, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe and his players are bracing themselves for a fierce onslaught from opponents smarting sorely after being humbled in front of their own supporters while the rest of Europe watched on.
Already, Anscombe has consigned that epic victory to history and moved on.
“That was last week; we’re here now looking at how we prepare for the next one. Our challenge is to be able to repeat that because they’re wounded and we know they’ve got quality players in their team,” he said. “A wounded Northampton team is a dangerous team so it’s going to be one hell of a battle on Saturday night.”
The man who has guided Ulster to 13 straight wins, leadership of the RaboDirect PRO12 and to the top of their group in Europe, is looking to his seasoned campaigners to complete the second leg of what would be a remarkable home-away double over the side currently lying third in English rugby’s top flight. Defeat will spell the end of Northampton’s hopes of making the quarter-finals.
“We’ve got a lot of experience here,” Anscombe pointed out. “The front row (Tom Court, Rory Best and John Afoa) has got a combined tally of about 128 Test matches and we’ve got outside backs (Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe) who have had 50-odd Tests as well.
“What that experience brings is ‘I’ve been here and done these sorts of things before’. You enjoy your victories, as the boys did on Friday. But the fact is it (winning in Northampton) counts for nothing.”
Typically he warned of the need to keep the momentum going rather than wallowing in past glories.
“You too often see in competitions — even internationals — a good performance backed up by a poor one. We’ve very much talked about keeping our feet on the ground as we know we’ve got an equal battle coming on Saturday,” he added.
With the exception of injured captain Johann Muller (broken arm), Ulster are expected to go with the same starting line-up. Neil McComb is in the running to join Dan Touhy in the second row, though switching Iain Henderson from the blindside flank is another option, particularly as Robbie Diack could then play six.
Meanwhile, Hartley will appear before independent Judicial Officer Roger Morris (Wales) tomorrow in Dublin charged with having struck Rory Best in Friday night’s clash.
If found guilty the England hooker, who was cited by France’s Jean-Claude Legendre, will miss the Ravenhill clash.