Belfast Telegraph

Ulster must build on the positives for trip to Bath, claims hooker Rob Herring

Making a splash: Zach Mercer of Bath celebrates after scoring his side’s third try against Northampton Saints
Making a splash: Zach Mercer of Bath celebrates after scoring his side’s third try against Northampton Saints

By Michael Sadlier

The Recreation Ground was rocking early on Saturday evening with just the kind of atmosphere Ulster don't want to create for the blue, black and white-clad supporters come this weekend.

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Zach Mercer's late try not only allowed Bath to extricate themselves from the foot of the Premiership table thanks to a 22-13 win but also meant that the West Country squad became the first to take Northampton's scalp this season.

Such momentum is proper order as coaches and players now navigate their way towards the start of things European, but while Bath will be feeling better about themselves ahead of this weekend's opening shots in the European Champions Cup, Ulster will not be particularly upbeat as they prepare for The Rec.

Though snatching a win from Thomond Park last weekend was never the stuff of high expectation, they had still somehow found themselves in a position to defy the odds only to fall short.

That disappointment was tempered by a performance which, though it had done much to negate Munster, was still far too perforated by errors as well as a lack of cutting edge.

A replication of that display is hardly likely to bring much joy at Bath, which is why Ulster have a lot of work-ons in their inbox for this week, and especially so if their opponents are able to wheel out big hitters Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson and Francois Louw for this European game.

Of course, Ulster have their own heavy artillery to bring out for Saturday afternoon with Marcell Coetzee and Iain Henderson expected to be very much involved after neither saw action at Thomond Park.

Whatever the playing combination Dan McFarland puts out at The Rec on Saturday, Ulster know they simply have to raise their game to a level of consistency that has yet to be seen this season.

It was a point that Rob Herring made in the aftermath of the 22-16 reverse to Munster.

"We're disappointed with a loss and we know we're going to have to step it up another level to get a win against Bath," Ulster's only try scorer admitted.

"We have a few things to work on to find a way to keep pressure on teams, but all in all I think we can take some positives from this game.

"We have some big European games coming up now.

"We'll go away to Bath, which will be similar having a hostile environment, but I think this game (against Munster) was a good stepping stone for us. We know we need to improve.

"Performance-wise, there were some really good things from the Munster game and there were some elements of our game that we will have to bring again, especially in the next two weeks against Bath away and then Clermont at home."

Ulster certainly refused to let Munster run over the top of them in the way that had been expected - leaving CJ Stander's try aside - and performed pretty well at scrum time, with a fired-up Jack McGrath and Marty Moore propping together for the first time this season.

But there were too many outbreaks of poor decision making, ball retention and handling in what turned out to be a bit of an arm-wrestle, neither side coming close to hitting their straps, apart from Andrew Conway's dazzling match-winning try.

And how Ulster missed Coetzee's extra work rate in both ball-carrying and at the breakdown, while not having Billy Burns at 10 meant that, in essence, they had precious few of his heads-up attacking ploys.

"We haven't had the performance we want yet," Herring admitted.

"We haven't put in a full 80-minute performance (yet), but I thought that in patches (at Munster) we were really good."

There was no quarter to be had in this first interpro, which had something close to two full-strength sides on show, though just how many players wearing white shirts left an impression on new Ireland coach Andy Farrell is probably fairly low.

Mind you, the players' No.1 priority was just to try and come home with a win from the game.

"We came into this wanting to get the victory and lay down a marker," said Herring.

"I thought we came out firing and we wanted a performance and do the jersey proud."

That sense of full-on pride can only really be achieved if they sack The Rec come Saturday.

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