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Concerned Ulster make cutting remarks about poor pitch

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster assistant coach Joe Barakat has said the province are concerned with the playing surface at Bordeaux's Stade Chaban-Delmas ahead of their Champions Cup opener on Sunday afternoon.

The Kingspan outfit, who struggled with an unusual artificial surface in Oyonnax during last year's competition, are aiming for a return to the knock-out stages for the first time since 2014, but Barakat admitted to fears that this weekend's contest could be undermined by a pitch that has cut up in recent games.

"We have a real concern, and you will have noticed it if you have watched their home games of late that their pitch is quite poor and tears up," he said.

"It's not a concern about them, it's about our own injuries, and everything we do on a pitch like that has to be going forward.

"As soon as you think about just wanting to put your feet under you and survive, all you're going to do is slide backwards. Our focus has to be about going forward."

Ulster head into Europe as the Guinness PRO12's league leaders, but on the back of a loss after falling to Connacht in the Sportsground last week. Barakat is calling for a vast improvement on the showing in Galway.

"Our major concern was how we started and the attitude we took into the first five minutes of that game," he said of last Friday night's encounter.

"I think we missed 28 tackles in the game and nine were in the first 90 seconds, during our first defensive effort. We have addressed that this week in training.

"A lot of what let us down was attitude, not necessarily organisation, but we still have the best defence in the competition (PRO12).

"We as coaches would love to know what buttons get a player to turn on attitude because we'd just push it.

"We try to work the best we can technically and tactically to prepare players but, psychologically and in terms of attitude, that is something we leave up to the players and it is something they bring to the game.

"You were here last year when we played Oyonnax and we had the same problem.

"Occasionally it rears its ugly head and we just have to deal with it. We have moved on very quickly and we have a Champions Cup game to play this week."

While Ulster received a dual blow on Monday with the news that Louis Ludik and Darren Cave will be out of action in the coming weeks with a broken cheekbone and calf problem respectively, there was a more encouraging injury update from Barakat.

Franco van der Merwe and Charles Piutau both missed the Connacht defeat but trained yesterday while Stuart Olding, Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble are all pressing to make their returns.

"We look like we are getting some guys back," said the coach who leaves for Western Force in December. "Lukey Marshall, Stuart Olding and Charles trained with us today. Franco and Trimby have been training all week and are available to play.

"It's looking positive and we'll be going over there as strong as possible."

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