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Craig Gilroy: There's no place like home to build Ulster's confidence

Building on Kingspan record can restore confidence, says Winger

By Jonathan Bradley

Despite the PRO12 now serving as the team's sole focus for this campaign, Craig Gilroy has called on Ulster to protect their impressive home record when Leicester Tigers visit the Kingspan Stadium in the concluding round of the Champions Cup pool stages on Saturday evening.

The Aviva Premiership team come into the game still harbouring hopes of a spot in the competition's quarter-finals, and will most likely need to take five points from the contest, but only European champions Toulon have beaten Neil Doak's men in Belfast this year and Gilroy wants to carry that statistic through the remainder of the season.

"There can still be something in it for them but certainly we don't want to let them just come here, throw the ball about and get the points," said the 23-year-old.

"It's a challenge for us but our home record has been really good this season.

"The fans have been great. The stadium gives off such an atmosphere when it's full so it's a huge incentive for us to put on a big performance and give the fans something to cheer about."

Ulster's last three games have been on the road, a win against Treviso sandwiched between defeats to Leinster and Toulon, and Gilroy is looking forward to some home comforts for the first time since the festive win over Connacht.

"I think Boxing Day was the last one so it's been a few weeks now. Everyone is looking forward to getting back and I know I am," he said.

"The next game we have is at home again against Treviso (February 13) so with the home record we have it's important to keep that up.

"Obviously you want to win every game but it's certainly good to keep our home record up there and keep the fans and everyone behind us and get the confidence up going in to what is close to being the tail end of the season."

Gilroy was a spectator for the 60-22 defeat to Toulon at the Stade Mayol last weekend and, despite admitting that it was tough viewing, he does not want to dwell on the negatives.

"You can look at it both ways, but we need to take the positives," he continued. "It was one of those games. A 60-point loss is disappointing but I thought at stages the guys played well.

"Just as they seemed to maybe be going somewhere, Toulon would strike back with one or two tries. It was frustrating but I like to try and take the positives out of it."

One area for optimism was the performances of some seldom used players - Mike McComish scored a brace in just his second performance of the season while young lock Alan O'Connor continues to look at home on the big stage - as injuries continue to decimate Ulster's playing resources.

There was more bad news on that front yesterday with the announcement that both Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding will need 12 weeks of recovery thanks to differing elbow surgeries, while Louis Ludik's fractured rib will keep him out until the end of February.

They join the likes of Andrew Trimble, Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry on the sidelines with Gilroy expressing the belief that others will need to step up in their absence.

"It's unfortunate (because they are) three guys who were going well," he said. "It's disappointing with Jacko there in that key position at 10. It's extremely disappointing for them but they'll get the best care and no doubt they'll come back ready to go.

"Until then, it's a challenge for us to do what we can to best facilitate that, to get the personnel we need in and try to make the best of a bad situation.

"That's the whole point of having a squad. These things happen, it's a physical game.

"Guys get injured so you need to have back up. You need those guys to keep doing the work even when they're not selected so when their time comes, they're ready."

Gilroy's own form seems likely to see him included in the Ireland squad for the Six Nations which will be announced at the end of this week and he will be one of a host of players looking to take the final chance to impress their respective national selectors.

"You'll have a lot of guys looking to push for those international spaces," said the six-times capped wing.

"Albeit it's very close and just around the corner, if there are guys just on the fringe then a big performance from them could do no harm.

"I'm looking forward to playing, obviously with the week off against Toulon, all I could do was watch.

"I'm excited about getting back and getting on the ball."

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