RaboDirect Pro12: Ulster can end away day blues
Mention the fact that the pressure is now really on with five regulation PRO12 League games and the Heineken Cup quarter-final still to come and Dan Tuohy has already spotted the danger and hits back with his own rather higher figure.
“You know, hopefully we’ll actually have 10 games left in the season,” is his reaction.
“And all that will hopefully last us until the end of May,” Tuohy adds with a firm reminder he wants to see Ulster going all the way to the PRO12 and Heineken Cup finals, although they’re going to have to do it the hard way on the road with probably only two more games at Ravenhill.
Point taken and whenever Ulster’s season does reach its end the 26-year-old Bristol-born second row will then hopefully have a place on the plane to New Zealand as Ireland head back there this summer for a somewhat challenging looking three-test tour.
He’s no stranger to Ireland training sessions as he has been part of Declan Kidney’s extended squad with frequent visits to Carton House over the last few weeks but all talk about him adding to his two Irish caps is strictly off limits – even though he should make the travelling squad – as Ulster is all that matters now and in particular Saturday’s visit to Treviso.
It’s the first part of an Italian double-header – with Aironi back at Ravenhill again the following week – from which Ulster must extract winning results, preferably with accompanying bonus points, but Tuohy is also quick to point out that even though Treviso have yet to win in any competition since the back end of last year they did turn Ulster over at Ravenhill for the first time when the sides last met back in October.
“Yes, Treviso beat us at the start of the season so we’re under no illusions as to the task ahead,” he says. “We’ve watched some videos of their games in the Heineken Cup and they ran Saracens really close (at home) and probably should have won it.
“So though they’re not great away, they have still managed to pick up quite a few wins at home.”
Even so, Ulster should be coming back from this encounter with another win under their belts even though an impressive Treviso came close to toppling Cardiff Blues at the start of the month.
Ulster’s League form has been looking good over the Six Nations period – three wins from four – when they have had to do without Rory Best, Stephen Ferris and Andrew Trimble while skipper Johann Muller has also been absent with injury since January’s Heineken Cup clash at Clermont.
“It’s always a tough time when you’re missing a few leaders,” says Tuohy. “Though having said that I think it’s really credit to John Afoa, (pictured), he’s added another dimension bringing his experience and quality to us has just given us another edge.”
But Tuohy has also made his mark with some notably aggressive performances while also showing impressive leadership at the lineout in Muller’s absence.
“Yes, it’s been going fine for me too,” he says. “I’ve had a different role over the last few weeks and with Johann out and I’ve been calling the lineouts, but it’s not something I’m unfamiliar with as I did it at the start of the season.
“Anyway, to come out of that phase over the Six Nations which is tough going with some good results was pleasing,” the former Exeter player adds.
Mind you, Ulster will have to do things the hard way as, after next week’s home game with Aironi, they are likely to play only one more time at fortress Ravenhill, when Leinster visit next month, even if they do progress to the League play-offs and also see off Munster to make the last four in Europe.
“Yeah, I think our consistency (away) has been an issue,” Tuohy concedes looking ahead to the away games at Treviso, Munster – they play twice including the Heineken Cup quarter-final – and Connacht.
“We’ve got to address this as we’re going to be on the road over the next few weeks.”
There’s no avoiding it these are now season-defining weeks and the intensity is building nicely.
“Yes, this is the crux, this is the business end of the season and this is where you want to be,” Tuohy.
He’s hungry for the challenge.