Ulster must rely on home comfort
Ulster will get an instant chance to right the wrongs of last Friday night when they host Cardiff at Ravenhill on Saturday.
Ulster crashed to a 10 points defeat on their first visit to the Cardiff City Stadium, a result which hugely damaged their ambitions of making the top four.
With only five games remaining Ulster have slipped to eighth place, nine points behind the Glasgow Warriors, although they do have a game in hand.
Starting against Dai Young’s Blues, Ulster have two consecutive home games, with a match against in form Heineken Cup quarter finalists Ospreys to follow on Tuesday April 13.
Two wins in front of the home fans is the minimum required if Ulster are to have any chance of moving up the table and challenging for the post-season playoffs.
McLaughlin’s men then have two trips to Scotland to face Glasgow and Edinburgh before finishing the campaign at home to Connacht.
There will be nervous glances towards the west as Michael Bradley’s side have closed to within eight points of Ulster in the battle for Ireland’s third Heineken Cup spot and that margin could have been even less if Connacht had been able to hold onto their half time lead against Leinster at the RDS, but Johnny Sexton’s last- gasp drop goal won it for the European champions.
If Ulster are to reverse last Friday’s scoreline, however, they must improve their discipline.
When Ulster beat Munster at Ravenhill in January — their last Magners League victory — they did not have one player sin- binned.
In the last three games Ulster have had five players yellow carded. Hooker Rory Best was off for 10 minutes in the game against the Dragons, David Pollock and Ryan Caldwell were the offenders against the Scarlets and in Cardiff Caldwell and Darren Cave were both binned and it was when Ulster were down to 13 men that the Blues scored the decisive try.
Also, Ulster conceded eight kickable penalties and although Cardiff kicked only half of them, coach Brian McLaughlin knows his side must stay on the right side of the law if they are to win games.
“Our discipline let us down and we have to sort it out.
“It’s an intelligence thing and we have to be a lot smarter,” said McLaughlin.
As well as an improvement in discipline Ulster will also have to work on their set pieces for the rematch with Cardiff.
The scrum has been one of Ulster’s biggest weapons this season but it made little impact against the Blues with Lions prop Gethin Jenkins forcing a number of infringements.
The Ulster lineout also misfired in the Welsh capital with a number of factors contributing to poor statistics.
Ulster have shown they can turnaround defeats in a short space of time — against London Irish in the Heineken Cup they lost the away tie 29-13 and came out at Ravenhill seven days later and won by the same score and they also managed that feat against Stade Francais when they lost 30-10 in Paris and won 18-0 the following week in Belfast.
The mood in the Cardiff camp was obviously more upbeat as they claimed a vital four points in
the battle to get into next season’s Heineken Cup.
“If that game was played in your garden, you would have probably shut your curtains,” said Young.
“It was a poor game but from my point of view points are far more important that performances now.
“That wasn’t a great performance but it was a dogged display and a game we probably should have won a bit easier.”
“We got what we wanted and that was a win. I was nervous before this game because I rate Ulster and believe they are a quality team.”
“They are very hard to beat and they would have come here determined to spoil our party. I am just relieved to get a win,” added the former Welsh prop.