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Mark Anscombe is keen to curb Ulster rugby's intensity levels


Mark Anscombe ahead of Ulster's quarter-final against Saracens

Mark Anscombe ahead of Ulster's quarter-final against Saracens

Brian Thompson

Mark Anscombe ahead of Ulster's quarter-final against Saracens

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has stressed the importance of building gradually towards Saturday night's Heineken Cup quarter-final shoot-out against Saracens.

Get it wrong and players reach their mental peak too early. It all has to be controlled so that when they take to the field they are at the psychological equivalent of concert-pitch. Too much adrenaline at this stage could be fatal to the hopes of conquering Europe.

Leading by example, Anscombe was calm as he faced yesterday's media barrage at Ravenhill.

"Our working week doesn't change," he said. "Because if you get too intense -- too built up too early in the week -- what can happen is that come game day nothing happens. A week is a long time in rugby -- too long to be getting anxious and building up tension.

"What we have talked about is getting clarity early in the week, relaxing and enjoying the work we're going through. Getting clarity is key -- really being clear about what we need to do.

"Then as the week progresses to when we get back together on Thursday, then we start raising the intensity and start getting the anxious levels up a little higher.

"You've got to make sure that you keep it all in perspective, keep it at the right level and keep a lid on it. You do not want guys getting anxious, you don't want guys self-doubting and you don't want guys to be over the edge so that when they run out they trip over.

"It's about compressing it all and just making sure that you go about your work and don't get too excited too early. Just slowly build it up."

But despite all of that, he did concede that this is different and there is no getting away from that fact. Bigger stage, bigger prize translating as greater expectation and, with that, more pressure.

With RaboDirect PRO12 encounters being against opponents whose collective style and individual players are familiar, the approach is totally different. A match like Saturday's requires more.

"I suppose there's been a little bit more preparation put into it because Saracens aren't a team who play in our competition, so from a coaching and management point of view there's been a lot more analysing and viewing of what they do," Anscombe said.

"But as far as the team goes there's nothing different, really. We go about our week the same --maybe some subtle changes to some of the work that's going on and looking at any of the things we might want to alter in our game in order to improve it."

Admitting that the knock-out stage of the Heineken Cup dwarfs most other matches, the New Zealander said: "It's the next stage up. The Heineken Cup is the closest you're going to get to international rugby. That's why it brings the intensity and edge it does."

Significantly, he was keen to play down the fact that Ulster enter the last eight as number one seeds in comparison to Saracens, who are eighth.

"That's means little," Anscombe said. "I don't really put a lot on that. We're not first in that eight, by which I mean the eight teams left. They played in different pools, so I think that one versus eight gives a slightly false impression."

Ignoring Saracens' ranking and instead highlighting their quality, Anscombe said: "They're not leading the Aviva Premiership on luck.

"They're consistent, they know their strengths and they go about their work as professionally as any team in the competition."