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Ulster have to keep winning run rolling, says Alan O'Connor

PRO12 Rugby

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 26/09/2016

Striding forward: Ulster’s Jared Payne leads the charge against Glasgow
Striding forward: Ulster’s Jared Payne leads the charge against Glasgow

Ulster lock Alan O'Connor has called on his team-mates to keep their winning run going all the way into Europe next month.

After Friday night's notable victory over Glasgow - a first in the PRO12 at a ground which has been the Warriors' home for over four years - the province have won four from four to start the season, their best opening to a campaign since Mark Anscombe led the side to 13 straight wins.

Indeed Friday's triumph took them to the top of the table at this early stage and they maintained their place as the league's pacesetters on Saturday when Cardiff failed to net a bonus point from their trip to face Italian side Zebre.

Two more domestic games remain before the Champions Cup in October - Ulster travel to Bordeaux and host Exeter to kick-off their continental tilt - and O'Connor wants to see Ulster finish off their first block with a perfect six from six.

"We look at the bigger picture and that's our first six games," said the 24-year-old. "We've won the first four and we can now focus on the next two.

"Every time you play teams are going hell-for-leather against you so that's the way it is."

Looking to halt the winning run before then will be Ospreys and Connacht, Les Kiss's side hosting the Welsh region in an appetising encounter this Saturday before travelling to Galway next week to take on the struggling champions who are still without a point.

Ospreys had taken a full complement from their opening three games but Steve Tandy's side were a clear second best against Leinster on Friday night in the RDS.

O'Connor envisages the men from the Liberty Stadium will be coming to Kingspan with a point to prove in what will be their second visit to an Irish province in as many weeks.

"Ospreys are a quality side so we've got to make sure we produce the goods just like we did (against Glasgow)," he said. "They'll be coming out hell-for-leather after losing to Leinster."

Ulster will come into the game in a hugely confident mood however, based not just on their results but also the manner of their latest victory in Glasgow.

At a ground where a litany of lost leads plague their recent record, Ulster dominated proceedings on the pitch only to see their superiority fail to be reflected on the scoreboard.

With their cause not helped by seeing two tries chalked off by the referee - one certainly the right call with the other more open to debate - and when old boy Tommy Seymour once again crossed the whitewash against his former employers during a rare visit to the Ulster '22', it looked like another comeback from Gregor Townsend's men was on the cards.

Rather than crumple, however, this time Ulster lifted themselves from the canvas and, through Paddy Jackson's score, found a counter-punch of their own. O'Connor felt no panic after seeing their earlier lead evaporate.

"Obviously we know what we can do," he said. "We knew we had been getting a lot of opportunities and that we would have to take the next one we got. There was 15 minutes left so we knew we were more than capable of getting back ahead."

On the character needed to see the contest through, he added: "The way we closed off the game in the last 10 minutes was class."

The memorable win did come at a cost with Ulster having to replace two centres due to injury for a second week in succession.

Seven days after breaking his nose, Stuart McCloskey was removed with a foot problem, while Stuart Olding was helped off after jarring a knee.

Olding was walking freely upon the team's return to Belfast on Saturday, however, and while Paddy Jackson required a protective boot, it is thought its use was precautionary.

Despite the toll, O'Connor had no qualms about the new artificial surface at Glasgow.

"Personally I thought the pitch was grand," he said. "It makes tackling that bit more difficult but we've trained on the '3G' before and have no real issues."

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