Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Lough Erne brings calm before storm for Ulster

Johann Muller leads his team off the bus for a training stint at Portora School in Enniskillen

In June, the ultra-luxurious Lough Erne Golf Resort on the main Enniskillen-Sligo road will host the G8 summit meeting of the world's most powerful political leaders.

This week, though, it is home to the 15 Ulster Rugby players and eight replacements who will face Saracens, the most powerful side in England's Aviva Premiership in Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final clash at Twickenham (6.30pm).

With the Premiership leaders providing the opposition, Ulster are gearing up mentally and physically in Co Fermanagh, far away from distractions, counter-attractions and anything else that might cause their minds to stray from the job in hand.

When they reached last season's Heineken Cup final, Ulster – then coached by Brian McLaughlin – insisted that they would prepare for it in the same way for any other match.

Then the thinking was that to start doing things differently would merely add to the pressure on the players in an already-tense situation. "Just another game," they insisted in 2012, though everyone knew it was rather more than that.

Now the view is altogether different, with McLaughlin's successor, Mark Anscombe, stressing the need to treat this game differently.

As the New Zealander sees it, it is a special occasion and by choosing to treat it in this manner the members of Ulster's management team are reminding the players of that fact. That, he believes, is how it should be.

Yesterday, in the plush hotel's Fermanagh Suite overlooking a outstanding, sun-kissed golf course, Anscombe explained the thinking behind Ulster's retreat to the country.

"It's about giving ourselves a different outlook, a different focus. All year we come and go to Newforge every day so we want to make this something special because that's what it is – something special," he reasoned.

"This is a Test match for us and that's how we're treating it. When Test teams come together for a Test match, they go into camp. So that's what we've done; we've come down here to get ourselves ready.

"This is about building up for our Test match, getting things into focus. We had a brutal game on Saturday (against Leinster at the RDS) so we've got some sore, tired bodies here. This is a good place to get ourselves in shape, to recover from the bumps and bruises and to get ourselves, our minds, into the right place for Saturday at Twickenham."

He has no misgivings about breaking with convention or doing things differently. In his eyes, this is not about adding to the pressure but instead welcoming and embracing the opportunity to play in a showpiece match, using the break from the normal way of doing things to underline the importance of the occasion.

"We want the guys to be excited so hopefully coming here will help do that for them," Anscombe said.

"It's a lovely spot so it's a good place to prepare."

Unfortunately, Anscombe – a keen golfer – is unable to avail of the Fermanagh complex's superb facilities in terms of what it offers exponents of that game.

"I've go to go back up to Belfast tomorrow because there are a few things I've got to tend to there," the coach revealed.

"Only for that I'd certainly be hanging around to play a bit of golf here."

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