We’ll have all our homework done for Castres: Afoa
The Heineken Cup appeared to come into focus at half-time in Ravenhill against Connacht. So much so that Ulster seemed to forget that the opposition were still there.
Last year's finalists went through the motions in the second 40 minutes, failing to build on their ruthless forward play before half-time and were left to rue failing to get a bonus point in their 25-0 win.
The regret soon passed. Nothing grabs the attention like a visit from the French — and Castres arrive in Belfast this week on the back of a rousing defeat of Clermont at home that will have done their ailing confidence the world of good.
Their second half revival was impressive as they overwhelmed Clermont and gave metronomic kicker Romain Teulet the opportunity to eke out a 16-13 home win.
Ulster are expecting a step up in class, but, after last season's exploits, there is expectation and confidence about this ever-improving squad.
“It has come around really quickly,” prop John Afoa said. “We have played really well in patches but we can park that now, really focus on the ERC and we have two games in a block that we can focus on now, go all out and try and be there or thereabouts at Christmas.”
The former All Black and his front-row colleagues are expecting a very different challenge this week after dominating Connacht to the extent that they were awarded a penalty try for a scrum collapse.
“It is always a different mindset for the French,” he admitted. “They are not a team who we play against regularly in the Pro12, so we will have to take a good look at them. They are a bit of an unknown, but the key for us is to keep doing what we are doing and we hope to do that.
“We can't get caught up in just the scrum. That is enjoyable when it is going well, but we know we need the full package and need to be able to launch attacks off that scrum.”
Coaches tend to divide their seasons into tranches — the first of which has ended with a fifth win in five games for Mark Anscombe's side.
“We have had five games and five wins. Any team wants to go to the Heineken Cup confident and buoyant and hopefully we have got our guys on deck available for selection next week, and we can be confident about what we are doing on the park,” he said.
“It will be a big game but Rory (Best) got through 60 minutes on Friday, Stephen (Ferris) the same and they are big-match players. Making sure they are on the park, with a little bit of time under their belts beforehand, is crucial going into the tough, physical encounter we have this week.”