Ulster must learn to avoid paying the penalty, says Neil Doak
Ulster head coach Neil Doak has sought clarification over his side’s scrum struggles ahead of the Guinness PRO12 clash with Benetton Treviso on Friday at the Kingspan Stadium (6.05pm).
The set-piece has been an unforeseen complication for Ulster so far this season and was heavily penalised in both the win over Ospreys and loss to Scarlets.
Having not had a game since the defeat in Llanelli on September 12, Doak used the break as an opportunity to talk through the issue with the league’s decision makers.
“We didn’t do enough to put them (Scarlets) under stress, not that they put us under stress. I had words with the referees and so forth that week post-Scarlets just to discuss a few issues that I didn’t really think fell on our side,” Doak said yesterday.
“Unfortunately, that was six or nine points that we couldn’t get back. We weren’t happy with a few interpretations but we’ve got to make sure we paint a better picture for the referee.
“The scrum had been a solid part of our game but unfortunately nine, 10 penalties in the last two games hasn’t been the platform that we wanted.
“Last week gave us an opportunity to look at that and obviously speak to the referees and the head of the referees to see their interpretation of certain things and certain scrums and hopefully that will be rectified on Friday night.”
Delayed en route, drenched on arrival and thoroughly unimpressed from first whistle to last, the trip to Parc y Scarlets was certainly one to forget for Doak but he admitted it took a little longer than usual to purge from the system thanks to a two-week break for the World Cup pool stages to commence.
“Whenever you have a loss you want to get back on the horse,” he said.
“Unfortunately for me the loss (was) mulled over for a little too long. We had a good week training last week and the boys are ready to go now.
“We tried to prep it pretty much like a game week. We got a little bit of contact done and I got a fair bit of work completed.
“(The early part of the week has) put us in good space and hopefully we’ll tidy things up come Thursday and be raring to go on Friday evening.”
What the wait has not provided, however, is clarification on Ulster’s injury situation.
Ian Humphreys and Sam Windsor have both yet to feature, with Peter Nelson subsequently pressed into action at out-half in both games, while Andrew Trimble missed the visit to west Wales thanks to a hip-flexor strain.
“Nothing’s really changed for the better for us, it was looking positive and then it didn’t,” revealed Doak.
“There’s a few guys who have to complete a few bits and pieces. We want to give them as long as we can but we’re conscious this is a one-off game.
“So if they’re not quite right we’re not going to risk them. We’ve prepped both ways, so it will be pretty late before we confirm things.”
Treviso, meanwhile, will be without their seven players in the Italian squad preparing to face Ireland on Sunday, including talisman Alessandro Zanni.