Restoring confidence now the key for Ulster ahead of Euro date
Published 07/03/2013 | 08:00
It is a sobering thought looking at the current RaboDirect table.
An 11 point lead gone, Ulster lies in second place to Glasgow with Leinster breathing down their neck.
The Scarlets and Ospreys are close enough that nothing can be taken for granted and a swing of one or two results would suddenly result in some very nervous players and coaching staff.
Alternatively, I am convinced that supporters would have been only too happy at the start of the season to be told that their team would have qualified for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and be lying second in the RaboDirect with only five games to go.
So, is it a case of the glass half full or half empty? Well, maybe the most important factors at this stage are confidence and momentum – and that is what is most concerning.
No doubt, Ulster have lost the early and mid-season momentum and need to somehow claw it back. Certain players have been below par, while others, like Stuart Olding, have really caught the eye and used their gametime to put their hands up for further selection.
Clearly there are some serious leaders injured or away with Ireland. This has left Ulster deficient in experience and technical ability.
The breakdown and ball-carrying ability has been stunted – key features of the early season success were Nick Williams' huge physical effort and Jared Payne's counterattacking and solidity at the back.
Currently, there are too many unforced errors with discipline showing signs of going into reverse.
It may be that Ulster have to take a step back in order to clinch some wins and consolidate their position.
With only two warm-up games before the Heineken showdown with Saracens, confidence-boosting performances are needed against Edinburgh and Leinster.
Once the Six Nations finishes we enter the 'business end' of the season.
Fits and starts are not enough – Ulster need to show that they mean business over the full 80 minutes.