Belfast Telegraph

We can't ruin knockout bid by wallowing in self-pity, warns Grant

Clear focus: Ulster forwards coach Roddy Grant is keen to move on from the loss to Clermont
Clear focus: Ulster forwards coach Roddy Grant is keen to move on from the loss to Clermont
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

The final round of a Champions Cup pool stage throws up such manner of permutations over the course of the preceding week and again once the action gets under way that there are times when maths rather than English seems a more relevant skill for the watching media.

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Thankfully for Ulster, the scenario is relatively straightforward. Barring a hugely unlikely turn of events, the aim of a home quarter-final went with their hopes of victory in Clermont last weekend, yet their knockout destiny remains firmly in their own hands.

A win of any sort against Bath at home on Saturday afternoon (3.15pm kick-off) and they will go into the last-eight as the sixth seed regardless of what happens over the remainder of the weekend.

Their opponent will still very much need to be determined - in decreasing order of likelihood they could travel to Toulouse, Exeter, Racing 92 or even back to Clermont or Leinster - and, in the interest of covering all bases, there is a series of results that would see the northern province through regardless of their result.

For their own part, win and you're in is an easier approach.

Forwards coach Roddy Grant said: "It's a good place to be.

"It makes things straightforward in that we have to play well to win.

"We'll need to against a good Bath team, but it's in our hands and that's the way it's looking so that's what we'll be trying to do."

With such an obvious carrot at the end of the week, there is little time to dwell upon the defeat to Clermont. Few teams win in the Stade Marcel Michelin but Ulster returned home with a few frustrating 'what ifs' from a contest they led at half-time and trailed by only three with a quarter of an hour remaining before ultimately falling 29-13.

"It's a hard one," said Grant. "You (try to) bin it and try to move on but it's also quite good if you have that disappointment and frustration, it shows you it could have been done, but that's the nature of pro sport.

"Any loss is quite difficult, and if things don't go well, especially if they've been in your control and it's errors that crept in, that's what makes it more frustrating.

"We really were looking to go down there and put our best performance out, and we felt if we did that, we could win.

"It was certainly in our control and we didn't. In the first half, we played a lot of good stuff, but in the second half not so much, and they ended up winning. So, yeah, there was a lot of frustration that the result didn't go our way, it's never nice losing.

"We will review it and preview Bath. We have to start that process of getting the minds ready to go again.

"But it's really good this week, with the quarter-finals at stake.

"You can't wallow in self-pity and we have to get back on the horse and go for another week. If you're not in the right frame of mind, it makes it harder. We're certainly disappointed but we need a big performance this week."

While Ulster were refusing to rule Will Addison out of contention - "a lot of times it can be precautionary; no decisions have been made as yet," said Grant despite the sight of the full-back on crutches as he returned to Belfast on Saturday - there seems sure to be at least one change to the starting line-up with Craig Gilroy and Matt Faddes both options to deputise.

Should the personnel stay largely similar, as expected, one improvement the coaches will surely be seeking from the panel is at the set-piece.

An area of the game naturally close to the heart of head coach Dan McFarland, he was understandably frustrated by their second game of scrum issues against the same opposition, while one of those regrets Grant mentioned was surely the turned over line-out five metres out when a try could have made the score 17-3.

The line-out was an issue in wins over Connacht and Munster over Christmas, a cause for concern for a side who have made it clear they are willing to roll the dice on penalties won in the opposition half.

"You never want to lose those big opportunities to put pressure on, but you get a little bit wrong and we lose the ball. We're always trying to minimise those," said Grant.

"(On the whole) it functioned, but we wanted more pressure out of our maul. On the goal line we got a couple of penalties out of it but we didn't get as much traction as we would have liked.

"Any time you lose a line-out, and teams are always going to do it, it's frustrating, but it's a big area of the game and we'll keep chipping away at it and keep improving."

Bath are bottom of the pool coming into this weekend after dropping all five games so far and have long since been out of the running for a quarter-final place. Having fielded a much-changed team against Harlequins last Friday night, and with a key Premiership clash to come against Leicester Tigers next weekend, there is an assumption that their focus may well be on the more pressing challenges ahead.

Not so according to their first-year director of rugby Stuart Hooper, who affirmed yesterday that his side were looking for both a first win and to avenge their narrow loss to Ulster in November.

"It is a big game for us and it's important," he said. "For the evolution of the group it is important. For our supporters we want to go out there and put in a performance that allows us to win.

"We got within one point of them here and all but for the hand of Jacob Stockdale at the end, we might have snuck in for the result.

"It wasn't to be and ultimately we haven't got the result that we wanted in the competition, so we have one last chance to go to Northern Ireland and get that this weekend. They need to win to go through. We want to be tested against the best and Ulster Rugby are in a position where they really want to do well and get the points and progress through the competition, so we will be doing everything that we can to stop that from happening.

"It is a huge game and we are treating it in that regard. We are going there with a team that we believe can win the game. When we finish that game, we will start preparing for Leicester Tigers."

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