Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Ulster Rugby coach focusing on challenging plans for pro12

Chris Henry is one of several key Ulster players now with the Ireland squad

Mark Anscombe won't have a number of the heroes of Welford Road around for the next two months.

Ireland's Six Nations campaign gets under way on February 2nd when they entertain Scotland in Dublin and ends on March 15 against the French at Stade de France.

But here the show must go on. Ulster have a four-match block of important RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures to be negotiated and Anscombe knows he must steer his side through those in order to keep their hopes of a play-off place intact.

He and those of his players not involved in the Ireland's Six Nations camp have a well-earned week off at this stage and when they return they will start preparing for Ospreys' visit on February 7.

Not unreasonably, though, yesterday saw Anscombe still savouring the sweet memory of Saturday's 22-19 victory over Leicester Tigers which made it six out of six wins in Pool Five of the Heineken Cup, earning Ulster the number one seeds' tag and a home quarter-final.

But before that there is important work to be done by those who remain, with Anscombe stressing the necessity to reinforce Ravenhill's reputation as a venue opponents dread visiting.

The coach was in jocular mood as he joked: "If we were here today reviewing and preparing for a game this weekend it would be bloody tough. We don't bounce back from a performance like that that well, so I suppose we're fortunate we don't have a game this weekend.

"But when we do get together the following week, it's about getting back to your work again. We've got four pretty important Rabo games in the next block – three of them are at home – and we need to make sure that we keep getting results.

"We got to build that stigma that teams don't come to Ravenhill and get results. No matter even if guys are in and out, it's a squad that puts us in these positions, it's not just a team of 15 or 23.

"So we've got to maintain that record at home so that when it does come the quarter-finals Saracens clearly know that they've got a daunting task ahead of them coming to Ravenhill and hoping to get a result," he said, underlining the importance of the role to be played by those not on international duty but instead entrusted with keeping the Ulster flag flying in the absence of those who are.

"We know we're in contention in one competition – we've got to make sure that we're in contention in the other one as well.

"Good teams, like the Munsters and Leinsters, year in and year out are in contention and we're putting ourselves up there with them now.

"To do that we've got to show that we've got a little bit more depth across the line.

Reflecting on that all-important European win at the weekend, Anscombe said: "Going through the pool unbeaten is something to be proud of. But also to go to two places like Montpellier and Leicester and having away wins is pretty satisfying."

The coach got his wish with the draw for the semi-final giving the winners of Ulster v Saracens a home country date against Clermont or Leicester Tigers.

"Look, we've got a big job ahead of us against Saracens and they did a job on us last time.

"It's not about revenge, it's just about being better and growing.

"We'll worry about that in about five to six weeks time." And the situation regarding his contract which expires at the end of the season?

"Things are progressing.

"We'll just leave it at that for now," he replied.