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Niall Crozier: Ulster ready for Brussels backlash

By Niall Crozier

Brian McLaughlin knows what to expect in Brussels on Saturday afternoon — a full-blooded, full-frontal attack by a Stade Francais team intent on exorcising the ghost of last weekend’s Ravenhill embarrassment.

Ever since, they have been getting it in the neck from the Paris-based media on two counts; their defeat and the nature thereof.

They will be smarting as a result, for which reason McLaughlin and his players are bracing themselves for a backlash.

But does the prospect frighten them? No way.

“We’ve got to match whatever they (Stade) throw at us. If we don’t do that, if we don’t compete, we know they will intimidate us off the park,” McLaughlin says. “We can’t afford to be in that position or to let that happen.”

He does not spend time pondering matters over which he has no control. In that he cannot change such things, he sees that as being a waste of time that would be better spent working on what he can affect.

Stade’s decision to play in Brussels is a case in point.

“That was their decision; nothing to do with us. Bottom line is that we’ve got to go and play them there. To us it’s just another away match.”

He cites away day performances against, Worcester, Ospreys and Connacht as providing proof of his players’ ability to deliver beyond their Ravenhill comfort zone.

“We did very well in those games so now it’s a matter of going to Brussels in the right frame of mind.

“We know what to expect and hopefully we’ll take the opportunity we’ve been given,” he reasons.

As a man who demands high standards of himself as well as of his team, he admits to having been disappointed by the Heineken Cup match against Edinburgh at Murrayfield where Ulster went down 17-13.

“It’s a pity we weren’t able to finish the job we started that day. We were ahead, but we let that one slip away from us.

“I can’t be disappointed with where we are overall, though,” he adds. “At this stage our destiny is in our own hands and that’s a good place to be. That’s what you’d choose.

“At the moment we’re looking quite good from a player point of view. Now it’s a matter of us making sure we have an attitude that’s going to enable us to go across there to perform.

“The squad we’ve named is one that’s covering every eventuality.”

Captain Paddy Wallace and BJ Botha trained yesterday at Newforge, leading the coach to say he was “very, very hopeful” as to their availability this weekend.

“Provided there’s no reaction they will be available for selection,” McLaughlin confirmed.

Timoci ‘Jimmy’ Nagusa has trained all week, so he too has come back into the equation.

“All of this is very positive; we have a few options but because we have there will be a few tough decisions to be made.

“Nobody likes to be left out, especially for a match like this. Everybody wants to play in these ones.

“These guys are professional players and these are the games they work and train for.

“But unfortunately there will be players who are left out and there will be guys who are disappointed.”

Belfast Telegraph


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