Ulster need more heroics from pack, says Davidson
Jeremy Davidson is looking for a repeat of last weekend’s European heroics.
That’s because he believes it will require a similar effort today if Ulster finally are to take a place as one of Europe’s top eight.
With a Heineken Cup quarter-final place beckoning he is asking the pack for another forward surge towards the goal. And warning them that it won’t be easy.
“This is a difficult place to play rugby. The Italians are a very, very proud nation, particularly at home, and they’ve got a lot of strength in depth,” he said.
“Salvatore Perugini, Fabio Ongaro, Fabio Staibano are all internationally capped (front row) players.
“In the second row they have Quintin Geldenhuys, Carlo Del Fava, who played here for Ulster, and Josh Sole.
“You can name countless internationals in their squad so we realise that we’ll have to be on the money when we’re playing over here to come away with the result that we need.”
Ulster’s forwards coach is more appreciative than most of the effort put in by the pack last Saturday in setting up the chance to progress.
The former Ireland and Lions lock, who will be 37 in April, played a big part in helping to fashion that crucial 9-6 win over Biarrtitz Olympique, for with the name of Castres Olympique emblazoned on his CV — Dungannon and London Irish were his other clubs — his knowledge of the ways and wiles of French opponents is vast.
He knows it will take more of the same this afternoon (1.30).
Davidson coached as well as played at Castres and, as a result, was able to build up quite a dossier on which of the Gauls could do what — plus a pretty comprehensive knowledge of how best to upstage them.
If you want to know about French rugby and the primary exponents thereof, you could do a lot worse than consult Jeremy William Davidson.
It is because he knows from up-close, first-hand experience just how hard and streetwise the Biarritz forwards are that he was delighted with the Ulster pack’s performance last Saturday afternoon at a wet and windy Ravenhill.
“The weather was going to be a leveller,” he said, going on to highlight the quality shown by the Ulster forwards on the day.
He now knows a repeat performance in Italy should see Ulster through, given that the game played by Aironi’s pack is so similar.
“We knew that Biarritz are one of the best packs in Europe. They’ve certainly got the best maul and one of the best scrums so to nullify those threats and come out of the game with a victory — and play so well into the wind in the first half — was a very good performance.
“It was a very disciplined performance as well in that we kept our error count down and we didn’t give them many opportunities to score.”
Referring to the quality of Ulster’s defence when the French began turning the screw in the
final quarter he admitted: “We were under a tremendous amount of pressure.
“But the workrate and enthusiasm — not just of the forwards but from one to 15 — was superb.
“Credit to Brian (McLaughin) and Johann (Muller) and Rory (Best) for keeping the team firmly focused at half-time.
“We knew that the wind wasn’t going to do it for us in the second half and our disciplined performance shows that we really have taken a step forward.”
Having played in some huge
games in the colours of his three club sides plus Ulster, Ireland and the Lions, the pressure on him nowadays is different to what he experienced in his prime as a player. Different, but no less intense, he revealed.
“I don’t think I’ve been involved in a more nerve-wracking game than the one last weekend. It was one of the biggest battles that I’ve been involved in as a coach.
“For the team to have come through and shown their experience and nous in grinding out a win in those conditions, when there wasn’t much rugby being played, was a great experience,” he said.
The same again against Aironi — in what Davidson has described as being “the biggest we’ve had in Europe for a long time” — is what he is asking of Ulster’s players.