No excuses for Ulster poor performances, says Paddy Jackson
Paddy Jackson has said there are no excuses for Ulster's stuttering form this season but has vowed the team will soon be back on track.
Despite picking up a losing bonus point against Leinster in the RDS, Les Kiss's side fell to seventh in the Guinness Pro12 table and meet Edinburgh tomorrow night in their final league game before Christmas.
Having suffered a disrupted start to the season due to World Cup involvements and the arrival of Kiss as director of rugby just last month, as well as playing away from home for five of their eight league games, there's plenty of potential mitigating circumstances for Ulster's squad to hide behind, but the out-half is blunt in his assessment of their current standing.
"It's far from an ideal place for us to be and it's something we're just not used to really," he said ahead of the meeting with the team sitting directly above them in the standings.
"There's no way of getting around it, there's no excuses.
"We are where we are for a reason and we know that we need to climb up this table as a team.
"It starts at training and we have to take that into the field. We have a bit of work to do, it's going to be tough but we have to do it together."
Having crossed the whitewash just once in November, the tries that flowed with relative ease during the season's first two months have dried up of late and the trip to Dublin yielded only a single penalty - kicked by the former Methody man himself - to trouble the scoreboard operator.
With Jackson and scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, the fulcrum of the backline, still searching for a groove after spending months apart on their respective World Cup tilts, the number 10 acknowledges that things haven't been as fluid as the side have come to expect.
"Our attack perhaps hasn't clicked too well over the last couple of weeks, that's something we're looking to fix," he admitted.
"It's something we have to do as a team.
"We're training hard and looking to put it right. We're not too far away, finishing off chances is going to be the main thing.
"Our core group of players have been a bit fractured obviously and we haven't had much game time together.
"It takes a little bit of time to build that but unfortunately time isn't really on our side.
"It's something that as a player group and management group we have to put right but it definitely will click soon."
After enduring an unproductive evening a week ago, Ulster will welcome a return to home comforts tomorrow night but, despite taking all of the 15 Pro12 points on offer at Kingspan Stadium this year, Jackson is quick to point out that their last outing in Belfast left a sour taste.
The defeat to Saracens a fortnight ago was Ulster's first at home in over a year - European champions Toulon the previous side to topple the province on their own patch in October of 2014 - with Jackson keen to make up for the reverse.
"The last few weeks we haven't got the results we wanted. It's important this week, especially at home, that we get a good result and importantly a good performance as well," he added.
"I think we can take a bit of confidence from our home record in the league but our last game here was a loss and that's something we really want to remedy on Friday night.
"We owe ourselves a better performance. We're all playing for each other. We're not going out to lose a game, but we're all just excited to get out there and put in a better performance."
An improvement from Saracens but also an upgrade on the reverse fixture at Murrayfield back in October when the hosts won a forwards battle by a score of 16-10.
Jackson was still on Ireland duty that evening, just two days before Joe Schmidt's men bowed out the World Cup with a quarter-final defeat to Argentina, but he has found the tape interesting viewing this week.
"Looking just at the game that we played against them over there, it was obviously a tough one," said Jackson.
"We're expecting something similar, a real tough Edinburgh defence.
"We're going to have to be patient with the ball and get our phase play going. We really need to get both the pack and backline moving.
"I've had some pretty tough games against Edinburgh, especially over there. They're a very hard team to break down but we've had a bit more fortune against them over here.
"I'm expecting a lot of heat down my channel, both when I have the ball and when we're defending, but I just have to focus on what I'm doing and not worrying too much about who's hunting me down."