Ulster possess ingredients for winning brew... just add luck
Published 15/10/2013 | 08:30
Mark Anscombe believes he has a side capable of conquering Europe. Provided, that is, Ulster avoid the sort of injuries which dogged them last season.
Asked if Ulster are good enough to win the Heineken Cup, his immediate reaction was to repeat the question, rhetorically. And then came the answer: "We are good enough to win this competition if we can put out our best team."
Even then there was a proviso: "But I'll qualify that by saying that I think there are half a dozen teams that can do that.
"This is a very physical game we play, so given that, and the length of the season, you're going to need luck to have all those best players on their game and fit and available to you come May.
"You need a little bit of that luck, too, to be able to survive and get there. Because no-one – not us nor any of those other half dozen teams capable of winning it – are going to win it on 15 to 20 players. Because you're going to have a game in this competition where you're going to have a few injuries; that's inevitable."
Last season saw him mastermind two Ulster firsts; they won their pool and in the process registered their first competitive victory on French soil in the process.
"I can assure you that none of that counts for anything now," Anscombe insisted.
"You don't look back at what you did in the past. All you can do is look at what comes next, your next challenge. That's the one thing you're in a position to do something about.
"As a team you've always got to be looking to get to new places and at how you back up, how you perform in the next one.
"Rory Best is now 30, he's played 70 Tests for his country and he's been a Lion. Tommy Bowe is the same. Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry now have had a couple more international games.
"But they've got to show that they can still do it, and that they've still got that drive in them to keep performing. Because we don't keep getting better, better, better from that best game we produced two years ago. That's not how it works.
"The challenge to each of us is can we repeat the best we did before, have we still got it, do we still have the fire burning in our belly to grow and be better and to get more out of ourselves?"
"That's the challenge," the Kiwi added. "That's the excitement of this game for the players – to keep challenging themselves to reach the expectations that we all have of them."