Ulster have quality to cure recent pain, say legends
Ulster legend Nigel Carr believes the side's current crop can turn their season around, even if the fans have every right to be frustrated.
Carr, who represented Ulster, Ireland and the Lions throughout the 1980s before having his career cut short by injuries sustained in an IRA bomb attack, has been as mystified as anyone to see the side slump to nine losses in 13 games, a run that has dropped Les Kiss' men to sixth in the PRO12 table and ended their European ambitions for another year.
But with unrest among the Kingspan faithful growing, the former flanker knows that what is now an 11-year wait for silverware is testing patience.
"I think the Ulster fans are some of the most loyal and supportive around," said the 57-year-old.
"We won the European Cup and then made a final but since 1999 we've seldom got out of the group or done as well as we should domestically.
"And yet we're still one of the best supported teams.
"So the fans can be forgiven for being slightly frustrated for all the support that they've given."
Even with eight players currently in Carton House preparing for the Six Nations, Carr still has faith that the side can turn it around in the months to come and avoid the indignity of missing out on playing any form of knockout rugby for the first time since the year the PRO12 play-offs were introduced in 2009-10.
"I think it's still within the reach of management and the players to turn this season around," he added.
"If they're in the top four come the end of the season, they have the players to win it and fingers crossed that's what is going to happen.
"They've got themselves in a rut and it's a bad run.
"Every match they've played recently has had that pressure attached and they've been coming out on the wrong side.
"It is a confidence thing to get back on track.
"Now there's just the focus on the PRO12 moving forward rather than trying to spread themselves and they need to get into that top four.
"It's a hard cycle to break but they've a few games against the Scottish sides coming up, and they're vital.
"If they continue this streak they're on, they could fall out of contention."
Two of Carr's former team-mates, David Irwin and Trevor Ringland, are in agreement.
Irwin, the 28-times capped centre who is now a part of the team's medical staff, admits that while the recent product "hasn't been good enough" the talent is there to ensure an upturn in fortunes.
"Obviously there's a lot of work needs done in a lot of areas but at the end of the day there's a lot of very, very good players," he said. "I hope that with whatever changes they make between now and the end of the PRO12, it's a very different side because clearly what we've seen over the last number of weeks hasn't been good enough."
And Ringland, who scored nine tries for Ireland, doesn't think it will take much to get frustrated fans back on side.
"Everyone in Ulster wants to see them do well and succeed," he said.
"While there is criticism out there, the crowd want to see them do well and are there to support them. They have to manage their way through this and start showing the attitude that will get the crowd behind them again and help get the results we want to see from them.
"This team have beaten Clermont. That means they can beat the best in Europe but they've lost their way in matches. They've been in a winning position in at least six other games and lost.
"That would put things in a very different light and they've had a lot of injuries too which has caused problems.
"They're under a lot of pressure at the moment and the confidence must be down. There's an uncertainty creeping into their minds and they have to dig deep."
Nigel Carr, Trevor Ringland and David Irwin were speaking at Queen's University Belfast to promote the academic institution's launch of a gala dinner, to be held in April, that will mark their contribution to the British and Irish Lions.