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Tyrone Howe: International break has played into faltering Ulster’s hands

Relief might be the prevailing emotion for Brian McLaughlin and his coaching staff this weekend. In terms of stemming the loss of momentum that Ulster has suffered in the last few weeks the Autumn internationals have come just at the right time.

A fourth spot in the Magners League, an opening Heineken Cup game with a bonus point, and a loss in France — on paper, it is hardly the worst of starts and on the eve of the season the players and management would have considered this fair progress.

So, why does it feel so flat? The answer is that word ‘momentum’. Had Ulster alternated between wins and losses, frustration would have had us simply calling for more consistency. Instead, the way in which the pendulum has swung from the opening run of wins to the recent defeats and loss of confidence feels far more dramatic and leaves supporters exceptionally concerned.

Despite a fourth spot in the Magners, Ulster’s season teeters on a mini precipice.

The next two fixtures are away to Cardiff and Treviso and there are currently only four points between Ulster and eighth placed Edinburgh. Then, there is Europe and that home fixture against Bath is vital to gaining the upper hand for the return game a week later.

Things have to look rosier come Christmas time to give Ulster supporters some seasonal cheer. Ulster are less disrupted by international squad call-ups, so the next three weeks provide an ideal opportunity to take stock. It will not be lost on the coaches or players that the timing, on this occasion, has played in their favour.

Belfast Telegraph