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Win will energise Ulster: Malone

Ulster v Bordeaux, European Rugby Champions Cup: Kingspan Stadium, Saturday, 1pm

Jonathan Bradley

In his role as skills coach and video analyst, Ulster's Niall Malone pores over plenty of statistics but knows the side have been falling foul of the only one that counts lately.

At the end of Sunday's loss to Exeter in Sandy Park, the numbers - with Ulster's far superior tally of linebreaks one that especially jumped off the page - indicated a much closer contest than the final 31-19 scoreline would have you believe.

Malone admits though, that after eight losses in 12 games, he is all too aware that there is little appetite for hard-luck stories among supporters ahead of what is now essentially a dead rubber against Bordeaux-Begles on Saturday afternoon.

"I used to have a poster in my office saying the only stat that matters is the final score, and I believe that," said the former out-half.

"Sadly if you lose and then quote statistics in your favour, it doesn't go down well.

"I'm conscious of the fact that if you quote positive things after a defeat, it's a bit weak or hard to stomach.

"If we weren't making any linebreaks, it would be a bigger problem. Our big players, Charles (Piutau) is the form player in the whole competition I think, and our Irish players Rory (Best), Paddy (Jackson), Hendy (Iain Henderson) are playing at the top of their game.

"I don't know, it feels like we're in control at points and then it passes or there's a silly mistake.

"We just want to score more points than Bordeaux this weekend, then it looks a bit better."

And while Malone reveals that, despite the slimmest of mathematical possibilities, Les Kiss and his side have no ambitions on a quarter-final spot, he believes that the need for a confidence building win this weekend outweighs the dangers of picking up any more injuries.

"It's a long shot for us to get out of this group, that hasn't really been part of the conversation this week," he said.

"After losing a few games, the conversation is just about getting a home win.

"We're looking forward to the game and getting a more positive result.

"Because we want the win so badly, we're going to go strong. Injuries aren't 100% at the minute but there's no thought of weakening the team.

"It's still important for us to do well this weekend and too important to send out a weakened team or a vastly changed team.

"I think both teams are in a similar position but they play Clermont in the Top14 the week after. We're guessing that they probably won't bring all their best players but the problem is they could leave out a few big names and bring in guys of similar ability.

"I think we'd actually prefer them to bring their fully loaded team. Traditionally French teams will change their team quite drastically but their lesser players may be more motivated."

Injuries will ensure at least one change to the starting side - while Tommy Bowe is also targeting a return having sat out last week's game - with prop Ross Kane having sustained a toe injury last week.

Ricky Lutton's successful run out for the 'A' side last week at least means that the team still have the requisite number of fit tight-heads in their Champions Cup squad.

"Injury-wise for this weekend I don't think there's anyone back," Malone added.

"Then we have two weeks off and the next game, Edinburgh, Stuart Olding will maybe be ready that weekend or the week after, Ruan Pienaar the same.

"They might not all be ready for the Edinburgh game but certainly for Glasgow and onwards a lot of guys will be available.

"It's probably going to be Jonny Simpson and Ricky Lutton as our two tight-head options. Ricky has been out for a long time but did well for us before he got injured and Jonny's been a real success the last few weeks in the face of adversity with about five injured tight-heads. He's come in, done well, and exceeded expectations.

"Those two will be adequate for this weekend."

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