Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Ulster Rugby boss Mark Anscombe not intimidated by vital Tigers clash

Mark Anscombe's future as Ulster coach remains uncertain ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup tie

He can, of course, feel the hype growing but Ulster coach Mark Anscombe isn't for buying into it. After all, there just isn't time to to reflect on what is being talked about away from the training paddock.

All he can do is plot the delivery of a final pool game victory with a home quarter-final there to be taken. That it just so happens to be at Welford Road, where Leicester Tigers have a fairly bullet-proof European record, certainly makes things interesting but Anscombe can only control the controllables.

And, of course, should he fail to mastermind a win then Ulster still have a quarter-final to play, though admittedly away from home and likely to be in France.

Anscombe's squad head into Saturday night's shoot-out to top Pool Five at the Tigers' European fortress with Craig Gilroy still a hopeful inclusion after suffering a broken nose in last week's victory over Montpellier, though prop Declan Fitzpatrick looks more than likely to be missing out.

That should see Ricky Lutton benching while Michael Allen will doubtless get the nod should Gilroy not make it.

"You've got to have a great deal of respect for history," the coach said regarding the Tigers' European record, "but that's not these teams. The challenge is not to beat history, it's how we perform on the day.

"You can't play a semi-final or final here, so you've got to win somewhere away from home so what better way to start than at Welford Road?" Anscombe added.

"They're not dissimilar to Munster and we did a job on them so we've got to believe we can do it again," said the coach, whose own future at Ravenhill has yet to be officially clarified.

You wonder if Saturday night's result will be pivotal to what happens regarding the Kiwi's contract situation, but he bats it away and insists that this is another game, though an important one.

Indeed, taming the Tigers would go some way towards making a statement of intent as not only would Ulster then be the only side heading into the last eight with six wins from six, but the virtually completed Ravenhill would have a game of stature to host in early April, which could well be against the Tigers again.

"We've got the stadium, but we're not getting the board coming at us and saying 'you must deliver'," the coach says.

"Everyone's got to sit back sometimes and take a breath here.

"Yes, we're the only team to have qualified for the last four Heineken quarter-finals but look at some of the teams who haven't made it (in recent seasons).

"Leinster had won two in a row last season but they didn't make it. I think sometimes people's expectation gets beyond them. Sometimes you have to put things in perspective."

If that sounds as if the coach is preparing the Ulster faithful for something they may not want to contemplate, he rapidly follows up by emphasising that much work is being done to counter what last season's Premiership champions will bring to Saturday's clash.

"It wasn't an ideal performance (against Montpellier), we scored three tries and could have got over the line another three times.

"But we're not naive and we're not silly. (This week) it's about recognising and understanding what we need to do and focusing on what we can do here and now."

The victory would a marvellous endorsement of his message.