Belfast Telegraph

Neil Doak: Ulster can still make top four for PRO12 play-offs

By Michael Sadlier

Despite the latest setback to Ulster's stuttering season, coach Neil Doak still believes his injury-hit squad, who are struggling to win away from home, can secure an essential top four finish to make the PRO12 play-offs.

After going down 24-11 to Leinster at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday - Ulster's third defeat in their last four PRO 12 games - the coach remained upbeat that his now fifth-placed side can fight their way back into the play-off zone, with only one point separating them from Leinster in fourth place. "It's going to be tight in the top four," Doak said - there are a mere two points separating Ulster from Munster in third - "but if we take the opportunities that we create I've no doubt we can get into the top four." With their European season effectively over, Ulster's only realistic shot at silverware is now the PRO12 but their away record in the league has been miserable with only one victory from six outings. "We need to look at our discipline away from home," Doak said after Dan Tuohy's yellow card against Leinster cost Ulster 10 points.

Meanwhile, Leinster prop Jack McGrath may face a citing for an apparent stamping incident on Rory Best.

McGrath could be cited for stamp on Rory Best that left BBC pundit and former Irish international Maurice Field hoping that "he gets done for a long time", though the Ireland prop had himself been stamped upon earlier by an Ulster player.

Best was able to continue and Tommy Bowe's withdrawal after a knock to the quad was precautionary.

Leinster lost No8 Jamie Heaslip to a shoulder injury but the damage is not believed to be significant. Even though he only lasted 27 minutes, only Devin Toner of his forwards made more tackles (10-7) than Heaslip.

Veteran Shane Jennings succumbed to his worrisome hamstring even before a ball had been kicked.

Jordi Murphy, still recovering from a three-month absence due to shoulder surgery, slotted in at No7 for Jennings before moving again to deputise for Heaslip.

"I don't think I've ever been out for that long before so it was a bit of a shock in the first few games," Murphy said.

"You're three months behind everyone in game-time really. It's definitely taken me a while to get up to speed. I'm not there yet but this was definitely a stepping stone. "It's not frustrating. It's just what I have to do. I can't get left behind. I can either feel sorry for myself and fall further behind or else put my hand up and keep moving forward.

"I'm delighted that I have that game-time under my belt. But I have to keep pushing on. That's the relentless nature of the back-row in Leinster. Nobody gives you any breathing space."

Josh van der Flier, with only his debut against Zebre before Christmas as a stepping stone, demonstrated little anxiety as he became the third Leinster openside of the day, while Jack Conan strode towards a second man of the match award in recent weeks as if he were a 10-year veteran.

The back-row trio of tyros were all born in the 1990s.

"The back-row were excellent, the composure they showed in dealing with so much disruption before and during the match," enthused Leinster coach Matt O'Connor.

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