Munster victory would spur Uslter Rugby on in Europe: Mark
As usual, looking back is not really an option, what with Munster on Friday (kick-off 7.05pm) ahead of the two crunch weekends in the Heineken Cup, so Ulster coach Mark Anscombe was keen to spell out the squad's clear priorities for this forthcoming three-game segment.
"Our next three weekends are going to be as tough and physical as rugby gets," Anscombe said.
"We've got to embrace that and of those three big ones (Munster, Montpellier and Leicester Tigers) two of them (Munster and Montpellier) are at home and that's where we want to be.
"Our destiny is in our hands and if we can get a win at the weekend over Munster that gives us momentum to take to Europe and if we can get all three wins we'll be sitting nicely," the coach added.
The defeat to Leinster – Ulster's fourth PRO12 reverse this campaign – clearly stung, but if Ulster can now recover by bagging wins over the next trio of games then things will definitely be looking up for Anscombe who expects to have his contract situation at Ravenhill – his two-year term is due to end this season – clarified in the very near future.
The return of Muller and John Afoa to the action along with injured trio Chris Henry, Nick Williams and Iain Henderson – with the latter possibly starting on the bench – will certainly bring fifth-placed Ulster the physical presence that Anscombe knows will be vital to steady the ship against PRO12 leaders Munster.
"They're all back in the mix which is good, but the challenge is too that some of these guys have been out for a period of time," warned Anscombe.
"Particularly Nick and Henderson and Henry, who have been out six to eight weeks so as good as they all are, it sometimes can take a little bit of time too.
"So though it's great that they are back in the mix, I think you've got to be realistic about what you expect to get out of them as well," he added.
Still, with Europe just around the corner there is no better time to bed those returning from injury back into game-time again and, as the Ulster coach admits, Munster will put up one formidable challenge at Ravenhill.
"We've got to make sure that we're up for it physically, because if you let them physically dominate you, you're gone," was Anscombe's take on what will be required on Friday night.
"If playing Munster doesn't get us excited, well nothing will. They're the league leaders and they're going well.
"You've got to credit the tenacity of their team and the way they just play for 80 minutes. It doesn't have to be pretty but it's effective," the coach added regarding what is pretty much a must-win outing for Ulster never mind it also being essentially a dress rehearsal for Europe.
As for the Stephen Ferris situation regarding his new short-term contract extension, as he continues his rehabilitation from an ankle injury he suffered in November 2012, Anscombe remained upbeat that the 28-year-old flanker is still making progress.
"It's good that Stevie's situation will allow him the freedom to do the work. It's nice to see him in the gym working hard and with a smile on his face," Anscombe said.
"He's starting to have some self-belief and I don't want to burst that bubble by saying 'here's a date he has to be there'.
"Everyone is working with him to give him every possibility of coming back," he added.