Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Hunger to win a trophy is Ulster's big motivation

Jonathan Bell (far right) will be looking to get one over his old team-mate from Ulster's 1999 European Cup success, Mark McCall (second left) on Saturday

There's a team meeting to be attended somewhere in the maze of corridors at the Lough Erne Resort Hotel and, even though the clock is ticking, Jonny Bell still has time to outline Ulster's gnawing hunger to capture a trophy, or trophies, this season.

"We want silverware this year," says the assistant coach with responsibility for Ulster's defensive patterns.

"There is an expectation from within that we want to push ourselves as far as we can and we want silverware with that," adds the 39-year-old who was a key player in Ulster's European success back in 1999.

"We're not happy with just a quarter-final, a semi-final or a final, we want silverware this year whether it's Pro12, Europe or both."

Of course the Ulster defence coach now has to plot a way to nullify the side now overseen by his former playing colleague and long-time friend Mark McCall, who also coached the hard tackling centre in the latter part of Bell's playing career at Ulster.

"I'd speak to Mark regularly and we're good friends, as is the case with Mark and David Humphreys and a number of other people around here.

"Mark knows what a seriously good outfit we have and we know what a really good side they have," Bell (pictured) adds.

"We know that they have a strong team culture and a really good work ethic and we also know they will be hungry.

"But there will be nobody hungrier than us. We'll certainly respect them but we know we can match them and beat them."

It will certainly require a huge step up in performance to derail Premiership leaders Saracens, and their ambitions of going on to win a first Heineken Cup, and even though Ulster produced a tremendous defensive finish to down Leinster last weekend in Dublin for the first time in 14 years – Bell was part of the side which triumphed in August 1999 – much more will be needed in Twickenham on Saturday.

As Bell explains, winning last season in the quarter-final at Munster and then, this term, demolishing Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens, winning for the first time in France at Castres and seeing off Leinster at the RDS are all key milestones in the evolution of this side, but will count for little unless Saracens also become an Ulster scalp.

"Yes, our performance is going to need to be greater as these guys base their game on pressure, getting into your territory and grinding you.

"They can keep the ball for long periods of time and they challenge you to stay on your feet and get back into the defensive line."

He also emphasises how vital it is for Ulster to stay disciplined – Owen Farrell or Charlie Hodgson will punish them otherwise – and for team leaders Johann Muller, Rory Best and Chris Henry to bring that added guidance to how things evolve around them.

Returning to the scene of last season's final drubbing at the hands of Leinster, even though Twickenham is a 'home' venue for Saracens, also holds no fears for the side, Bell argues.

"That experience will stand them in good stead because that high pressure environment lends itself to giving you a bit of steel.

"We know we have that support behind us but it's about us getting on with the business in hand, we're hungry and determined to get into another Heineken Cup semi-final.

"You have to beat the top sides and that's what we have to do."

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