Belfast Telegraph

Opening shot all that matters for Ulster coach Mark Anscombe

By Niall Crozier

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe may not be unaware of the words penned by Quintus Horatius Flaccus in 23BC.

In the days of Augustus, "Carpe diem" was the advice offered by Roman poet known to the English-speaking world as Horace.

Yesterday, as Anscombe mused on Friday night's start of the 2013-14 RaboDirect PRO12 season, wittingly or unwittingly he appeared to be in agreement that "Seize the day," still rings true 2,036 years after being penned by the Roman bard.

Anscombe's advice to his Ulster players and supporters this season can be paraphrased thus: "Stop fretting about tomorrow and instead enjoy the here and now. Concentrate on what we can control and forget about anything we can't."

Anscombe on a roll – as was the case at yesterday's Newforge announcement of the 25-man squad to face the Dragons on Friday evening at Rodney Parade – is worth hearing. When he steps out from behind the restrictions imposed by the well-taught 'here's how to handle the media' mask, he has plenty of note to say. Yesterday was one such occasion.

"I think something we, the public, the media, the whole lot, get too caught up about things way down there instead of worrying about here and now," he said.

"Enjoy now. But we can't do that because we're so paranoid about what's going to happen at Christmas time, or in January-February.

"So let's just keep a lid on it. Let's enjoy this weekend and then let's get the fans to Ravenhill the following Friday for the Glasgow game. Hopefully the good weather will continue a while longer so let's enjoy that, too, and let's hope we perform.

"If all our focus and talk is about other clubs and what they're doing then we're not enjoying this, are we?" he asked rhetorically. "If we have a good win but then it becomes, 'Yeah, but what about them?' you end up thinking about somebody you'll be playing in three weeks time.

"So although your own performance was good, you start worrying that maybe it wasn't good enough to beat a team like Leicester at some stage down the line.

"That's something you can't do anything about right now, so I think if we can keep everyone focused on that we can all enjoy it."

Do not misjudge his words; Anscombe has lost none of his hunger, desire, ambition or drive. He is the same man as was in charge last season when Ulster topped the PRO12 table, only to fall in the final against Leinster whom they had beaten home and away in the round-robin phase.

"We're at a stage where everyone's looking forward to the start of the season. Pre-season has gone well and it has served us as we needed it to by allowing us to find out where were at and what we needed to do.

"We're happy to have been able to integrate most of the squad into some game-time and now we know what we have to do we're looking forward to playing on Friday," he said.

Ulster will be without still-resting Lions Rory Best and Tommy Bowe, their Irish team-mates Iain Henderson and Stuart Olding, South African Ruan Pienaar who is on Four Nations duty with the Springboks and injured tight-head John Afoa, the 2011 World Cup-winning All Black.

Afoa's fellow-Kiwi Nick Williams is an absentee, too, as are longer-term injury victims Craig Gilroy, Paddy Wallace and Stephen Ferris.

Last season – his first in charge – Anscombe masterminded Ulster's first-ever clean sweep in Wales where they won all four matches against the Principality's quartet of regions of whom the Dragons are the weakest. But Anscombe insists he attaches no significance to that perception, instead reminding you of the fact that Rodney Parade has not been a particularly happy hunting ground for Ulster.

"They (Dragons) have been strengthened by some off-season signings, they've got a couple of new coaches in there as well, they have re-signed Toby Faletau which is a big plus for them. A lot of positive things have been happening in the region," was his assessment of Friday's opponents.

"They had a good pre-season win against Bath so they'll be buoyant. Like all teams they'll be starting the season enthusiastically with a full and fit squad. And over the years we haven't had great success there so were certainly know we're going to have to be on our game."

But having won at Rodney Parade last time round, it was telling that Anscombe added: "You certainly don't want to be going backwards, so we have to put high expectation on ourselves."

Belfast Telegraph

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