Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin’s optimism continues despite a run of five successive defeats.
Yesterday he persisted with his “one game at a time” mantra despite previously bottom-placed Connacht having drawn level with his team in the lower reaches of the Magners League following their 27-13 victory over leaders, Leinster, on Wednesday night.
While Connacht were winning in Galway, McLaughlin, Ulster Rugby’s chief executive Shane Logan and director of operations David Humphreys were at Newforge where they faced some tough questions from frustrated members of the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club.
“There’s no point in us worrying about Connacht now; that’s out of our hands and there’s nothing we can do about it,” McLaughlin admitted.
McLaughlin’s side face Edinburgh at Murrayfield in the Magners League on Sunday (4.05pm), less than 24 hours after Ulster Ravens play Munster A in the semi-final of the British and Irish Cup at Thomond Park.
Two games in such a short period will test Ulster’s resources fully.
“We’re stretched and we do have a few injury problems,” McLaughlin conceded.
“But that means the Ravens have a chance to include a few young players at this level, which is fantastic for us and fantastic for them.
“It’s a great opportunity for those players to show exactly what they’re capable of doing.”
It’s a very positive spin to what may be another difficult weekend.
Best case scenario? The Ravens book their place in the final of the inaugural B&I Cup, following which their seniors register their first win in Edinburgh since February 2006 and Connacht lose to Scarlets in Llanelli, an outcome that would put some clear water between Ulster and their rivals for the third Irish place in next term’s Heineken Cup.
Worst case scenario? The Ravens are beaten by Munster A, Ulster lose to Edinburgh and Connacht return from Wales with a win which would put them in the driving seat ahead of their trip to Ravenhill.
That’s a prospect too alarming to contemplate.
Worryingly, the 26-man Ulster squad named for Sunday’s Murrayfield showdown includes players whose fitness is in doubt.
“There are one or two concerns, that’s why it’s such a big squad,” the coach explained.
“A couple of them may well drop down to the Ravens squad, but just at the minute we’re waiting to see how they react to having trained today.”
He had good news on two of the three Irish internationals who missed out through injury against Glasgow Warriors last weekend.
“Stevie (Ferris) and Rory (Best) should be okay, though there would be a question mark about Paddy (Wallace),” he revealed.
Reflecting on three previous
meetings with Edinburgh this season he said: “We’ve beaten them once and we probably should have beaten them here at Ravenhill in the Magners game when we had a really hot 25 minutes in the first half and couldn’t just sustain it.
“That’s been our form in the past few weeks, I suppose — doing well early on but just unable to keep it going to the end.
“The players are training hard and working well. Today Les Kiss has been up (from Dublin) doing a lot of defensive work with us. And our attack was sound.
“So it’s just a matter of going out at Murrayfield on Sunday with all guns blazing in confidence that we can beat them.
“We have to be mentally tough and make sure we don’t give away soft, cheap, easy points.”
And the Connacht threat?
“We’ll think about that when we’ve got the result we so badly need this weekend,” added McLaughlin. Meanwhile, Munster seem destined to be without their talismanic captain Paul O'Connell when they face Biarritz in the Heineken Cup semi-final on May 2 but Keith Earls, despite missing tomorrow's Magners League clash with the Ospreys, is expected to be available for the San Sebastien showdown.
Both players have been battling groin injuries.