RaboDirect Pro12: Glory still in Ulster’s grasp
Winning is everything and the positive results Ulster have had over the last three weeks can now be the catalyst to revive their season, says former Ulster prop Justin Fitzpatrick.
The current Dungannon coach feels that Ulster definitely have the ability to continue their winning ways with next week’s League clashes with current table-toppers Leinster and third-placed Munster and then the trip to Edinburgh the following Friday.
The player who won the Heineken Cup with Ulster also reckons that good results over their interprovincial rivals can also act as a springboard for Europe and the must-win clash at Ravenhill with Leicester Tigers as well as the following game at the intimidating Clermont Auvergne which could be a Pool Four winner-takes-all shoot-out and an encounter, Fitzpatrick also argues, that Ulster could get something from to snatch qualification.
“I certainly wouldn’t be pressing any panic buttons as all the ingredients are there for Ulster to do well,” Fitzpatrick told the Belfast Telegraph.
“As we’ve seen over the last three weeks when they get it right the results fall into place and Ulster have now got that bit of confidence from their last two games in Europe.”
Even though Ulster have hardly been firing on all cylinders throughout this segment of wins former Ireland international Fitzpatrick (pictured) believes that Brian McLaughlin’s squad may still have turned an important corner in what has, so far, been a season of fits and starts.
Fitzpatrick added: “Look you don’t go from not playing particularly well to playing fantastic rugby.
“The important thing is they are getting the results. This makes it much easier to build on once you’ve got some wins in the back pocket and it also, of course, boosts confidence.
“It’s been a tricky season with the World Cup having its impact but I really don’t think it’s all doom and gloom and they are more than capable of turning things around.
“I’d be confident things will only improve for them in terms of performance,” Fitzpatrick added.
While Ulster sit top of Pool Four in Europe, they are still well off the pace in the PRO12 League and are currently in eighth spot with the chances of them replicating last season’s top four finish looking highly vulnerable.
“Ulster definitely have a harder route than last season if they are going to make the top four in the League,” the long-serving former Ulster squad member admitted.
“They will also need a certain amount of luck with results elsewhere but the reality is that they have to continue their winning mojo and that starts with Leinster and Munster.
“If they pull off those wins then they’re definitely going in the right direction and then they can head towards the next project against the Tigers.”
Fitzpatrick, who spent two seasons with French Top 14 club Castres, also believes that Ulster can go to Clermont with confidence that they can get something from the visit to Stade Marcel Michelin where the home side have chalked up an incredible 35 consecutive home wins.
“If we get a result over the Tigers then it’s another cup final over at Clermont and it’s all in Ulster’s hands.
“It’s certainly not a walk in the park with their home record but I can assure you there are more intimidating places to play than at Clermont.
“I never lost there with Castres and if Ulster can stay with them, then the home crowd will really get on Clermont’s backs and being a French side they always have that ability to implode at some point.”
But back to more pressing matters and even though McLaughlin’s men are expected to be without all their frontline internationals — and perhaps a few others due to an Irish training camp — for the festive week’s clashes with Leinster and Munster, Fitzpatrick feels that this situation is not a negative development and will allow Ulster to showcase some of the talent that is on the fringes of the squad.
“These things are difficult for Brian (McLaughlin) but on the other hand you do get the chance to see the fringe guys and there’s no better time to do it than in an interprovincial.
“It also doesn’t necessarily just hurt Ulster as Leinster and Munster are pretty much in the same boat when it comes to Ireland squad commitments.
“There is also a lot of talent around Ulster rugby as you can see from the Ravens getting into the British and Irish Cup quarter-finals and the fact that some of the clubs are really pushing on well in the All-Ireland League,” Fitzpatrick maintains.
So, it’s all a work in progress with Ulster, currently at least, staying on the right road.