Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

RaboDirect Pro12: It begins again

Captains from the respective RaboDirect Pro12 teams at the launch of this year's campaign

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe soaked up the atmosphere at the launch of the 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12 yesterday in Glasgow.

Soaked up the atmosphere and then dealt adroitly with one or two potentially difficult moments regarding his appointment.

Fresh from Monday night’s launch dinner hosted by Glasgow City Council at the magnificent City Chambers, the following morning found the Kiwi and his counterparts from each of the other 11 participating clubs at Glasgow Transport Museum for the pre-tournament meet-the-media session.

There the coaches and captains handled a barrage of questions regarding their hopes, aspirations and expectations ahead of the new series which gets underway on Friday, August 31.

As fate would have it, first up for Ulster will be an opening night date with Glasgow at Ravenhill. And having just witnessed a very public display of optimism in their home city, Anscombe knows these particular Scots will not travel with any sense of foreboding in just over a week’s time.

And why would they? After all, they were fourth last season with nine points more than Ulster and two places further up the 12-rung ladder as a result.

All of that was pre-Anscombe, of course, and yesterday as he faced assembled hordes of journalists from the participating countries — Scotland, Ireland, Italy and Wales — he was confident and relaxed in fielding the questions to which they sought answers.

Not surprisingly they were keen to know more about his arrival and the departure of his predecessor, Brian McLaughlin, who now is working to bring Ulster’s best young players through.

“People wonder why it has happened when you have a team that’s been successful,” Anscombe told them. “The club have their reasons as to why it happened so that’s not for me to worry about.

“I’ve got a job and (as with) any job I do, I get into it, look at the people (I’m working with), get to know your strengths and weaknesses and what you have to work on.”

Turning his attention to his hopes for the coming series, Anscombe continued: “The fact is that when any season starts off, everyone wants to start off on the right note — and that’s winning.

“In many ways the expectation this time is no different to any time you’re coaching; you want to start well, you believe in what you’re doing and that it’s right and you make sure that you’re working for players to play to their potential.

“If we do that, then obviously we’d have expectations of getting results,” he said matter-of-factly. Quizzed as to Ulster’s expectations and to how those might be realised he replied: “I think the expectation is within ourselves.

“You’ve got to create an environment that’s a challenging one and a learning one and a growing one — one that you enjoy and one where the guys turn up because they want to come to work, want to be there and want to be part of it.

“I think that’s very important. A good environment is one people will learn more in.”

Then, introducing another of his favourite themes — his commitment to eradicating complacency from within the Ulster mindset — Anscombe held court on that subject, too.

“Sometimes when things are going well, complacency can filter in. And if we have people who are complacent about selection because they know where they sit in that environment, then I think what we’ve got to do is not take things for granted but build the strength within our squad to survive the longevity of the season.

“You have to have people who are accountable for their performance — that’s the key to a season as long as the one that we have,” he insisted.

Asked what changes he has introduced, Anscombe’s response was: “From the playing aspect? I think they’ve been subtle. I’ve tried to simplify some of the things that were in place and I think the players have bought into what we’re trying to do.

“Then there are the little details; our efficiency, our accuracy, giving ourselves options to be able to respond to events on the field when things don’t go right. When that happens you’ve got to be able to bring it back, so we’ve been working on those types of things in the close season.”

Without showing any of his hand to Glasgow — or anyone else — Anscombe had made his position clear. This Ulster team is his team and things are going to be done his way. Provided they are, he is confident he can deliver.

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