Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Ulster struggle against Cardiff's clout

This week Cardiff have seemed intent on proving that anything Ulster can do, they can do better.

Thus when Ulster announced the return of Ian Humphreys from Leicester Tigers for next season, Dai Young's side leaked their interest in signing the world's greatest out-half Dan Carter.

The All Black star, who destroyed the British Lions in 2005, is considering joining a mass player exodus from New Zealand and the Blues, having previously signed Jonah Lomu, believe he would fit the bill perfectly. It is just another sign of the times of the financial tide that is rising across Europe and threatens to leave Ulster struggling to compete.

Cardiff, backed by multi-millionaire benefactor Peter Thomas, have made no secret of their lofty ambitions. This season they reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and are currently second in the Magners League behind champions elect Leinster.

And the team Ulster used to regularly beat, both home and away, want more.

Dai Young's side however had been the perpetual under-achievers in the Principality and Matt Williams' side will be desperate to put down a marker at the Arms Park tomorrow night (kick-off 5.30pm) that they retain serious aspirations themselves.

Williams may be opting to field a fairly youthful side and has made no secret that his emphasis is on rebuilding Ulster's home form first.

Yet there would be nothing more valuable in the restoring the confidence to the side than finishing their away campaign on a winning note, having won just once on the road this season - at bottom-placed Connacht.

Ulster centre Andrew Trimble, who is relishing his new midfield partnership with Paddy Wallace, admits that with the Heineken Cup place all but secured next season following last Friday's victory over Connacht, the team can at least play free from the yoke of pressure.

"In the last few weeks we have looked at our opposition and the threats they pose and we have to keep our minds on that this weekend," said Trimble.

"But after the result against Connacht we would like to think we can play with a bit more freedom and with a bit less pressure on us, who knows what we might be capable of."

With the team set to be captained by Kieron Dawson for the first time given the injury concern to Rory Best, Williams hopes tomorrow night's clash will be about his squad taking another step in the right direction for next season.

"Everything we are doing this year is about next year," said the Ulster coach.

"The win last week, in relative terms means nothing to this year but it is all about getting into the Heineken Cup next year.

"Going to these away fixtures, which are tough environments, with the young guys - all our last four opponents away from home are Heineken Cup quarter-finalists - is a steep learning curve for them.

"You can't talk about it, you have to live through it and to not blood them this year would be wrong because if you didn't they would not have that experience for next year.

"We will be using this weekend to blood two or three - you don't want to throw seven or eight in only for them to fail together and that's not healthy, you want to have a support system around them - and hopefully they will benefit from the experience again."

So what is the key to addressing Ulster's away record?

"The first thing you have to do to counter the away record is to acknowledge the problem and the boys have done that and put their hands up," Williams added. "It is not acceptable to lose away from home and that is the first big step.

"At Leinster we had two years of failure before we won in France and it doesn't mean we are going to walk out straight away and be successful.

"But it is about looking at every aspect of our preparation to get it right and that is going to be an on-going process. This week we have started that process."

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