Anscombe confident of positive finale
Mark Anscombe basked in the sunshine yesterday afternoon at Ulster's Newforge training base.
Standing on the first-floor terrace overlooking the sun-soaked sports complex he said: "Weather like this always brings a more positive outlook from people. Being able to train in these circumstances makes it more enjoyable."
The vagaries of the Ulster climate being what they are, however, neither he nor his players depend on it for any feel-good factor. Instead that comes from within and with the RaboDirect PRO12 table-toppers' semi-final date with Scarlets at Ravenhill (Friday, 7.45pm) fast approaching, they are gearing up for a very special night at Ravenhill.
This will be the last match before the old grandstand is bulldozed to make way for something altogether more modern.
If it proves to be the occasion on which Ulster book their place in the PRO12 final, that will be a fitting note on which to exit.
A relaxed Anscombe said: "There's a good buzz about the team. We've got a full contingent apart from a couple of niggles we picked up at the weekend so that adds confidence.
"People are contesting for positions and that brings a bit of an edge and excitement and that's good. Unfortunately, that's something we didn't have the last time we were going into a knock-out stage match," he said with a rueful backwards glance at Ulster's Heineken Cup exit last month.
"Hopefully we have learned from that. I think we have.
"We're looking forward to this challenge. You've got to be positive going into a play-off game and this time I think we are.
"The fact that we've come first (in the 22 PRO12 'league' matches) is a plus. We led for most of the year so we've kept our heads above water and finished best of all the teams in it and that has to give us confidence and belief in ourselves."
Asked what has given him most satisfaction coming towards the end of his first season in charge he replied: "The fact that we've played 29 matches and lost only six. That's a pretty good stat in my book, especially when you look at the injury toll we've had to cope with, the guys we have been without and you consider that we've used 48 players.
"We've been without crucial players. We really haven't had Stephen Ferris at all this season. Tommy Bowe missed a lot of it. Chris Henry and Rory Best have not played half the games. We've been without our captain (Johann Muller) at times. Roger Wilson has had a bad time with injury.
"So to have achieved what we have in topping the table is something that gives me a lot of satisfaction.
"We've scored 63 tries in 22 games, which is an average of nearly three per game. Again, that's a pretty good stat when you consider some of the conditions we play in."
And then came the injection of reality when he added: "But we haven't achieved anything yet, other than getting to a semi. Now it's the knock-out stage which means no second chances. If you don't get it right on the night, you're out.
"So the challenge now is to keep this going so that we finish up with something to show for it. Having come this far we certainly don't want to be waking up on Saturday morning with our season over."