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Niall's watching brief has found weaknesses to exploit

By Michael Sadlier

Niall Malone's work is hugely significant but remains largely unseen and only appreciated by those who directly benefit from it. His job is all about delving deep into video analysis to uncover opponents' weaknesses which can then be exposed by Ulster's game-plan.

It's mostly a world spent staring at a PC screen where the ability to edit clips into digestible packages is key, but you don't envy his most pressing task as the last while has seen Ulster's performance analyst and skills coach putting in his time looking for chinks in Clermont's formidable armour for tomorrow's must-win Champions Cup clash.

And even though the French side are fully in control at the top of Pool Five, Malone has actually been enjoying figuring out how Ulster can potentially hurt the visitors.

"Of course we know that they're a good team and very powerful," Malone admits of a squad hotly tipped to finally triumph in Europe after some notable near-misses.

"But it's been an interesting week for me working out how to go about beating them and I've actually had a good week, I've really enjoyed it," adds the former Ireland and Leicester Tigers player.

Though he naturally won't be drawn on exactly what he has seen, there are areas where Malone is happy enough to impart his knowledge.

"They score a lot but they concede a lot too," says Malone.

"For a team that successful they do concede an awful lot of points and we certainly think we have the firepower to score points."

So, catching one of Europe's most potent sides cold at lunchtime tomorow seems to be part of the plan and one which is reinforced by Clermont arriving here having won just one Top 14 game from their last three outings, with those defeats to Pau and Bayonne being away from home.

"For such a good team they don't appear to have had the greatest form over the last few weeks," adds Malone.

"It's actually maybe not the worst time to be playing them as they've lost (a couple) and they don't lose very many.

"That (losing games) gives us plenty of hope."

Smothering Clermont's preference to off-load is also mentioned as key to getting under their skin in this the first of the pivotal back-to-back encounters.

"They tend to take contact and then look to off-load a bit like Bordeaux (where Ulster lost in their European opener)," he says.

"Clermont are probably a little bit better at it than Bordeaux so that's certainly something we've been focusing on this week, trying to prevent them playing that off-load."

And just in case the conversation is entirely about Clermont, Malone reminds us that Ulster can actually play a bit as well.

"We have some star players too who are in good form so Clermont will have plenty to think about playing us," he adds.

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