Belfast Telegraph

Heineken Cup: Spence wants to hit visitors early

By Niall Crozier

Having just completed his Sports Studies finals, finally 20-year-old Nevin Spence is able to concentrate on tomorrow’s task.

He reckons the first quarter of the match will be crucial, with each of the protagonists attempting to put down early markers and score important psychological points against their opposite numbers.

“In the first 20 minutes I’d imagine they will try to impose a certain amount of physicality so it will be up to us to meet that challenge,” said the former Ulster Development centre/wing, who this week signed a two-year contract as a full-time senior player.

“Depending on what the weather is like they might go for territory or else use their back three.

“The one thing we can be sure of is that there will be a physical side.”

Spence knows Ulster dare not grant Biarritz the sort of headstart they gave Bath. For although they twice passed the test of having to reel the Aviva Premiership side back in just before Christmas, they know these Super 14 Frenchmen are less likely to be caught if permitted to build up an early lead.

“We can’t do what we did against Bath, though I think we have learnt lessons from that and that’s important,” he added.

“Biarritz are a good enough side that if you let them get a 12-point start it could be game over.

“At the same time, if things don’t go our way in the first 20 minutes or the first half we can draw on the experience of the Bath games knowing that we can come back from points down.

“A lot of that belief comes from the coaching staff; it’s not just down to the players. The coaching staff deserve credit for that.

“And I think the experience of our half-backs, Ruan (Pienaar) and Humph (Ian Humphreys) — key players and decision-makers — is really important for us.”

Obviously, as an outside back, his preference would be to see Ulster play a ball-through-hands running game. But he is a realist who accepts that the right result is going to be more important than the manner of its attainment.

He said: “Yes, I’d prefer a running game but the win is what matters.

“It’s a fine balance but let’s put it this way — if we aren’t playing beautiful rugby but we win the game I think most of us would take that.”

The somewhat more experienced Andrew Trimble — who has also just signed a new contract — will play wide of the youngster. He is wholly positive about Ulster’s ability to rise to tomorrow’s challenge.

“There’s only so much time you can spend looking at Biarritz. You’ve got to look at yourselves and say, ‘We’re a quality outfit’,” Trimble said.

Highlighting the importance of not conceding points, he added: “Our defence is very important to us because whenever we’re defending well we play well.

“There’s no point just talking about these things; you’ve got to make them happen.”

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