Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

RaboDirect Pro12: Anscombe record now under threat

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe can boast a 100 per cent record on Welsh soil.

But the New Zealander knows that a 16-13 victory over Ospreys in Swansea on his only previous trip to the Principality hardly constitutes a winning run.

Played one, won one is not quite a form guide, even when that solitary success just happens to have been against the defending RaboDirect PRO12 champions at the Liberty Stadium home they share with Barclays Premier League footballers, Swansea City.

Tomorrow night will see Anscombe’s side in action once more in Wales. In that it will be their first outing since the tragedy which claimed the lives of Noel Spence and his sons Graham and Ulster centre, Nevin, at the family farm, the occasion itself will be difficult enough.

But to that huge emotional hurdle can be added the challenge Cardiff Blues will pose. Currently they lie third in the PRO12 race and with more and more of their big-name players returning after Wales’s summer exertions in Australia, they are edging towards full strength.

A 16-5 win over the Dragons at Rodney Parade followed by last weekend’s 34-18 victory against Benetton Treviso at the Arms Park adds credence to that conviction. So, too, did Anscombe who highlighted the calibre of the players now at the disposal of the Blues’ Director of Rugby, Phil Davies.

“They’re a tough team at home; they’ve got some good players and they’re getting their internationals back,” said Anscombe.

Citing those who will pose a real threat to Ulster’s status as the only side now able to boast an unbeaten record in the 2012/13 PRO12, Anscombe (pictured) continued: “Jamie Roberts is a huge influence on any team he plays in. He’s a big man, an international-quality midfield back.”

There can be no disputing the Kiwi’s analysis of Lions centre Roberts, who - after almost six months out of the game with a left knee injury – has just returned looking as good as when he bowed out. Just ask Treviso against whom he scored last Saturday, his first try since the Amlin Cup final against Toulon in May, 2010.

One is not named as Man of the Series for the Lions’ 2009 tour without very good reason and by virtue of his performances alongside Brian O’Driscoll three years ago in South Africa, the Welsh wrecking-ball contributed plenty of those.

He was not the only Cardiff player Anscombe highlighted, however. Persisting with the theme of the Blues’ quality, the Ulster coach continued: “They’ve got (Alex) Cuthbert on the wing – another of international-quality. Sam Warburton’s back, and Bradley Davies.

“They are in the top group having had only one loss (21-19 against Edinburgh at the Arms Park in Round 2) and at home they’re going to be a formidable team.”

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