David Humphreys is not a man particularly given to making rash statements.
By nature Ulster Rugby’s Operations Director is a cautious imdividual. So when he says that Ulster have achieved their end-of-October target, take it as read that things are progressing very nicely.
Shortly before leaving for Limerick, where Ulster face Magners League champions Munster at Thomond Park this evening (5pm), he said: “At the start of the season the management team sat down and agreed on goals we felt were realistic.
“We’re coming to the end of phase one — the break for the autumn international series — and to date we have achieved our target.
“It’s fair to say that we are where we had hoped to be at this stage.”
For the benefit of any who may be unaware of the fact, currently Ulster are in pole position.
This evening their mettle will be tested by opponents who have suffered defeats in three of their last four matches.
None of those reversals have been at Thomond Park, however, a fact the cleverly diffident Humphreys stresses.
Clearly he is happier to see Ulster cast in the role of underdogs.
“Thomond Park holds 25,000 – the biggest ground capacity in the Magners League — and it will be packed,” he said.
“Some media pundits in the south are trying to make us out to be favourites but that is a bit ridiculous.
“We are under no illusions. We know our own limitations.
“Our reality is that we have to achieve at least eight out of 10 each time we play, and sometimes more.
“We didn’t do that against Dragons and Edinburgh and we lost.
“So we aren’t like Leinster or Munster, who can afford the luxury of an off day and still win. We’re working towards that sort of consistency but we aren’t there yet.”
He dismisses any suggestion that Munster have gone beyond their best-before date and are no longer the force they were.
“Munster are a world-class team with world-class players,” he said.
“It is not new for them to start slowly.
“They have done that before and gone on to win Magners Leagues and European Cups.
“Admittedly they haven’t hit top gear yet, but we know they will come good.
“I have no doubt they’re quite capable of winning the European Cup. That would not surprise me.
“When you look at a player like Paul O’Connell, for example, he has only played something like three matches so far, so he’s not up to speed yet.”
Humphreys accepts that there is pressure on Ulster, but now it is of a different nature than before.
“At the beginning of the season we were under pressure to start winning games,” he added.
Now we are under pressure to maintain that.”
Asked if the Ulster team’s results and performances to date had surprised him he replied: “We always said the quality was there but we just weren’t doing it on the pitch.
“Now that we are playing better, some people are begun to write us up. But one or two bad results and they will be writing us off. So I think you learn not to get too up or down as a result of what is being said about you.”
He uses the word ‘excited’ to describe the mood in the Ulster camp ahead of this evening’s battle.
“While we know we can’t afford to under-perform we’re excited about the challenge and confident that if we play as we can we have a good chance,” he said.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace (captain), Andrew Trimble; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, Brendon Botha; Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell; Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry. Replacements: Andy Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Tamaiti Horua, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli.