Calm Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin is taking it all in his stride
If Brian McLaughlin is feeling the strain of having guided Ulster to a better place than they have been for a very long time, he hides it well.
There has been no hint of tension this week during the countdown to the first of his side’s four remaining Magners League matches.
McLaughlin, who has just signed a one-year extension to his contract as Ulster's head coach, is calm and composed. After all, these were the goals he set himself; top four in the Magners League, knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup.
If others are surprised at Ulster’s position on those fronts, he is not. Similarly, if others are satisfied at what he has achieved to date, McLaughlin isn’t.
By nature he is a winner and, as he reminds you: “We’ve won nothing so far. All we have done is put ourselves in a place where we might win something.”
He is happy to be back at Ravenhill tonight and, in his own words “looking forward to it”.
In view of the importance of the match against Scarlets — Ulster’s last before they face Northampton — McLaughlin has recalled his big guns.
With BJ Botha and Ian Humphreys having recovered from elbow and hamstring injuries respectively, they are in the starting line-up.
Tighthead Botha has not played since the Heineken Cup match against Biarritz on January 15, while Humphreys has been sidelined since February 25.
Andrew Trimble also returns after missing the last two games, replacing young Conor Gaston.
Rory Best resumes as captain, his Ulster involvement having been limited to 15 minutes against Glasgow last week following his return from Six Nations duty.
He is propped by Botha and Tom Court in an all-international front row.
In the back row Willie Fallon starts on the open side with Chris Henry dropping to the bench.
And with Humphreys back, Ruan Pienaar reverts to scrum half, ousting Paul Marshall.
Adam D’Arcy is restored at fullback, with Simon Danielli switching to the wing in a move which sees Craig Gilroy start on the bench.
McLaughlin knows that Ulster have managed to scrape through games of late.
So whilst delighted to have taken the points from those wins he acknowledges that his players
will have to up their performance tonight against Scarlets. With success imperative, he is hoping the lessons of last Friday evening’s match in Glasgow prove beneficial.
“Three, four years ago if we’d been 16-9 down we wouldn’t have won that game — certainly away from home,” he says.
“We’ve got that inner belief now, that culture within us that says, ‘No, we’ll fight right to the end and stick in here because we’re capable of doing it; we’ve got the right players in the right positions’.
“Scarlets are going to be very tough, no doubt about that. They, like us, need to win so it’s going to be a real battle for points.”