Belfast Telegraph

Joe Barakat insists Ulster can't afford to be ordinary

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster may be the form team in the Pro12 but defence coach Joe Barakat insists visitors Scarlets can't be taken lightly at Kingspan on Sunday.

Their last six games have yielded 22 points, and taken Les Kiss's men to the top of the standings, but the league remains finely poised.

Just a single point separates Ulster and their weekend opposition in fourth with a top two finish, and the accompanying home semi-final, the goal over the course of their eight remaining games.

With three of those to come before the return of their Irish internationals featuring for Joe Schmidt in the Six Nations, Barakat says no-one at Kingspan will be thinking about absentees between now and the end of March.

"There are no excuses," said the Australian. "We've just got to look at going forward and we've got an important game against the Scarlets coming up."

The former Waratahs man is calling for an improvement in the side's defence, even after they secured a 13-10 win against champions Glasgow Warriors last time out.

The province conceded a try in each half, the second coming with the last play of the contest when the game was already in hand, with Barakat certainly dissatisfied with the effort.

"As a defence coach, any try scored against us I feel embarrassed and insulted by it," he said.

"We walk away and it's two tries to one and someone's got to take responsibility for that and that's my responsibility.

"Having conceded two tries is quite unacceptable

"Our only good first half performance in our last four or five games has been against Oyonnax in our last Champions Cup game here.

"It's almost like we've a level of arrogance and we don't."

Ulster could be without Ruan Pienaar for the visit from Wales's leading region with the star scrum-half going through return to play protocols while hooker Rob Herring also picked up an injury last week.

Barakat thinks the potential loss of the squad's captain in the absence of Rory Best would be a big loss given his stellar defensive work this season.

"You lose momentum when you lose Rob as he does a fair bit of work around the park.

"We do a cumulative tackle statistic and he was winning it prior to breaking his own record.

"He made 38 tackles when he missed his first and then gone and made 50 more tackles and missed his second. So he's made 88 tackles and missed two."

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