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Ulster Rugby can be table toppers: Neil Doak

By Michael Sadlier

It's all about accuracy now. Producing it at a high level both in attack and defence is the overriding requirement as Ulster hunt down a top four finish with a home semi-final being the clearly preferred outcome.

Assistant coach Neil Doak's role is to ensure that Ulster's attacking plays can deliver scoring opportunities and make these chances count as they approach their final three regulation games with the added complication being that each one is against a fellow top four challenger.

The pressure is rising as there is now no more wriggle room for Ulster, with five sides – Leinster, Munster, Glasgow and fifth-placed Ospreys – all still in the mix for the semi-finals.

The focus has to be intense as the margin for error is gone and Ulster's 'three cup finals' start with tonight's clash at in-form Glasgow Warriors (7.35pm) and continue with nasty looking encounters at home to Leinster and away to Munster.

And just in case you thought the squad might be basking the afterglow of last week's 58-12, annihilation of Connacht, Doak makes the point that the players have already been shown footage of last September's meeting between the sides when the Warriors stole away the result at the last gasp.

Indeed, prior to the dramatic Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens, two weeks ago, Glasgow's 13-12 win that was the last time Ulster had been beaten at Ravenhill this season.

All the more reason – especially with Ulster's punishing injury list – to remind the squad of what it will take to get the better of the Scots.

With John Afoa and Robbie Diack now having joined the spiralling number of key players currently out of action, the need to be right on the money is clearly at hand.

"We actually played really well that night," says Doak referring to the last time the sides met back in September.

"And we showed the guys this week that we actually created four chances and from that point of view we've just got to be clinical and accurate."

At least any lingering demons from the Saracens game seem to have been will and truly exorcised with last Friday's whopping defeat of Connacht. Eight tries scored was a more than reasonable return.

Even better, though, some of those touchdowns showcased some sublime touches and appreciation of space, with Tommy Bowe's off-load to the looping Paddy Jackson, for Luke Marshall's second half try, arguably being the pick of the bunch.

As ever, though, Doak was not for lingering on the achievement, rather his focus had already shifted to the challenge which awaits at Scotstoun.

"After Saracens, it was good to be able to bring movement to our game again (against Connacht) and the boys got in for a few scores so it was credit to them for that," said Doak, who will be assistant coach for Emerging Ireland at this June's IRB Nations Cup.

However, things are unlikely to unfold in the same way tonight. The Warriors have won their last four games and have momentum with them, especially after their attention-grabbing 22-5 result against Munster at Thomond Park last week.

"This week will be different," admits Doak. "They (Glasgow) are going to be tighter defensively and there will be less space and it will probably be a bit of individual brilliance that could make all the difference.

"Any opportunities we get, if it's kicking at goal or whatever, we've got to make sure we get our noses in front.

"There are five teams there and it will be a pretty tight finish. You've got to now make sure you're accurate and you've got avoid putting yourself behind the black ball early in the game.

"Last week Munster did that," he states before adding, "They (Munster) were a little bit inaccurate at the start and Glasgow got their lead and they are a tough team to break down."

Having conceded fewer tries than any other side in the PRO12 – 17 in 18 games is the number the Warriors have let in with Ulster next on the list at having shipped 20 tries over 19 outings – it is clear that Gregor Townsend's squad do not surrender points cheaply. So, it all boils down to keeping your nerve and striking when the moment arrives.

"Yes, when you create you have to take it and that's the focus," Doak states

"This week we just have to step it up a notch," he adds.

But for all the defence-splitting strike plays that Doak hopes to unleash tonight, it's not really about aesthetics; this is just about winning, pure and simple.

Belfast Telegraph

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