Neil Doak: Let’s hit ground running
Ulster's backs coach Neil Doak tells it like it is.
While results in August’s pre-season friendlies have no real bearing on where the silverware goes the following April/May, they can — for good or ill — affect the mood going into a fresh campaign.
“Obviously in these matches what we’re trying to do is implement some of what we’ve worked on in training,” said Doak.
“So although there’s no real significance attached to the result you’re keen to get a little bit of confidence in the hope that you can then hit the ground running when the Magners League starts.”
Not that pre-season success guarantees anything, of course.
Twelve months ago Ulster were impressive winners of each of their three warm-up matches against Newcastle Falcons, Viadana and Worchester Warriors.
But when the season-proper kicked off the weekend after the last of those three victories, Ulster crashed to 25-3 defeat at the hands of Newport Gwent Dragons.
Even so, pre-campaign wins are unlikely to prove more damaging than beneficial.
Doak cuts to the chase in acknowledging that success in professional rugby is dependent on taking chances and not conceding anything cheaply.
And being a glass-three-quarters-full rather than half-empty sort of guy, he saw more to please than frustrate him in last Friday night’s 26-14 defeat by Bath.
“While we were disappointed with the result there were occasions when we kept the ball for 10-plus phases so it was just unfortunate that when we got to the stage where we had opportunities we just didn’t recognise them early enough and weren’t able to put them away,” he said.
“We had three or four good opportunities and could have been 21-0 up before Bath got on the board.
“We went a wee bit soft just before half-time when they scored and that was a killer blow. We let
them in for a score they really didn’t have to work massively hard for, so that was a bit disappointing.
“But it was first game out for us whereas Bath had a game and a half behind them. That mightn’t sound much but at the start of a season it counts in terms of knowing what the intensity is like.”
And Doak expressed his satisfaction with preparations for the forthcoming campaign.
“Obviously now we get another chance against Harlequins,” he said ahead of this afternoon’s work-out against Harlequins at The Stoop.
“It’s a chance to bring in a few new bodies and have a look at them. It means we can possibly iron out a few of the issues — timing, for example — and hopefully improve on completing some of what we create.
“I think we’re always going to create some opportunities. Now it’s just about the guys recognising those when they come.
“That’s maybe been an Achilles heel in the last wee while; we make chances but we’re not seeing them early enough.
“The top teams create opportunities, see those quickly and then put them away.
“That’s probably where we are at the moment — we’re creating them but not finishing them off.
“It’s key we’re able to carry the stuff we’ve worked on in training over into games and, at the same time, use these matches to take a look at a few new faces.”
Following today’s clash with Harlequins, Thursday night will see Ulster host Leeds Carnegie (7.30pm) in their final pre-season friendly before launching their Magners League campaign against champions, Ospreys, at Ravenhill on September 3.