Belfast Telegraph

Heineken Cup: Forget past and focus on the task ahead, Ulster

By Niall Crozier

Brian McLaughlin has repeated his words that Ulster will fly to France this morning with just one objective in mind — victory.

Don’t waste your breath talking to the Ulster coach about drawing or a bonus point for a narrow defeat; he isn’t interested.

For him, victory — and with it a quarter-final date at Ravenhill for the first time since 1999 when Ulster went on to become European rugby champions — is the sole purpose of the trip to ASM Clermont Auvergne.

“All credit to Johann (Muller) and the team on the night (Friday’s 41-7 demolition of Leicester Tigers). We were outstanding and we deserve the plaudits that we’ve been getting,” he said.

Then, with typical McLaughlin candour, he added: “But the key thing is that we have got to move on from that.

“We’ve got to make sure in Clermont this weekend that we’re getting an even better performance and that’s certainly the message that we’ll be putting out.

“With all the permutations, to be quite honest with you, we’re only interested in one and the one that we’re interested in is guaranteeing that we get a home quarter-final.

“That’s the only permutation we’re interesting in,” he repeated, as if to ram home the point.

“We’re under no illusions about the enormity of our task. But we feel that with the performance we put in on Friday that we’re more than capable of going there and coming back with what we need,” he added.

Acknowledging that the loss of Darren Cave — out for six weeks with a foot ligament injury — is untimely, nevertheless the Ulster coach kept the positive, upbeat theme going by pointing to his midfield options.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve got Nevin (Spence) back fit and we’ve got Ian Whitten who came on last week and did exceptionally well and has never let us down,” added McLaughlin.

“From that point of view we’re quite happy with the quality of what we’ve got there.

“We’re very strong in the midfield and we’re in good shape as far as that’s concerned.

“Obviously Darren has been playing exceptionally well and it’s a blow for him, but hopefully in six weeks time he’ll be back in there challenging for his place.”

Captain Johann Muller sat by the coach’s side, taking in every word and when his turn came, he, too, showed total focus and unmistakable resolution with regard to Saturday afternoon’s winner-takes-all Pool 4 tie at Stade Marcel Michelin.

Muller is an impressively grounded individual who never loses sight of things in need of

correction or which would benefit from more work.

“Friday night was a really good performance and we played really well in stages, but it still wasn’t perfect,” said Muller.

“There were a couple of silly mistakes that we made, a couple of penalties that we gave away, our line-out didn’t function particularly well so there were a couple of things that we can still improve on.”

Asked if he thought it would be difficult to fire his players to the same level as against Leicester, he smiled before replying: “We’re playing for our lives here. We’ve got everything to play for.

“If we go down there and we lose we’re probably not even going to make the quarter-final and if we win we might just sneak in a home quarter-final.

“If that’s not enough motivation for us as rugby players then I don’t think anything would motivate you.”

Admitting that a couple of calls possibly had gone in Ulster’s favour against Leicester in front of a partisan, 11,700 capacity crowd, he warned of the need to be careful in Clermont, saying: “When you go down to France those 50-50s might just go against you”.

Muller also reckoned that Ulster will have to play even better than in last weekend’s stunning destruction of the Tigers.

“We’ve worked hard this week so far,” he said.

“The excitement in the group is great, the focus is definitely there and we’ve got to make sure that we better that performance.

“If we play exactly the same as we did against Leicester that might not be good enough down there. A huge performance is needed again.

“But I don’t question the (Ulster team’s) mindset because we’ll be playing for our lives here.”

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph