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Don't let referees penalise you, says Ulster Rugby coach Neil Doak

By Jonathan Bradley

Neil Doak has said Ulster must be "squeaky clean" for referee Luke Pearce against the Scarlets tomorrow if they are to overcome their recent second-half struggles.

After two straight defeats to open Pool 3, Ulster must win against the visiting Welsh region if they are to have any hope of making the Champions Cup knock-out stages but the head coach has been concerned by the discipline displayed by his side of late.

"As I said to the guys earlier in the week, we've got to be as squeaky clean as we can and not give the referees any opportunities to put us under pressure and allow teams to relieve pressure and get territory against us," said the former scrum-half.

"We had Munster under pressure at times but a little bit of ill-discipline and a few turnovers just allowed them to get in the game and put pressure on us.

"We've been pretty comfortable in first-halves and a couple of silly errors, you all of sudden put yourself under stress and both the Ospreys and Munster capitalised."

Ulster were outscored by a combined 26-0 in the third quarter of their games against Ospreys and Munster, with Doak citing a high penalty count as a contributing factor.

"Maybe certain things have happened at half-time and the referees have decided to go against us a little bit. We've had a lot of penalties post half-time.

"The last two weeks have been disappointing from that point of view and we want to rectify that this week.

"I'm happy enough with parts of our game, we've been really solid at times, and we've just got to make sure that we're disciplined."

Doak has been handed a boost ahead of the must-win tie with both Ruan Pienaar and Dan Tuohy expected to be named in his 23-man squad at lunchtime today.

Pienaar has not played for Ulster this season after the star scrum-half injured his knee in South Africa's Rugby Championship contest with New Zealand at the start of September, while Ireland lock Tuohy broke his arm for the second time this year against Cardiff one week later.

Doak confirmed: "It's good to have them back on the paddock and if there's no reaction then they potentially might be involved at the weekend.

"Hopefully over the next period of time we can get the rest of the international guys who have been sitting on the sidelines back."

Ulster are still without Andrew Trimble, Iain Henderson, Luke Marshall, Paddy Jackson and Jared Payne, with the latter expected to be the first to return, but there was some good news on Chris Henry this week.

The 30-year-old, who had heart surgery just last week, was pictured back in the Kingspan Stadium gym on Monday, with Doak adding: "He'll just keep working on his rehab to get back on the paddock as soon as possible.

"It's great news that he's back, trying to keep himself fit for when he can get back to full training."

While Henry's return remains some time away, Ulster will be heartened by the availability of Tommy Bowe following his international heroics last month.

The 30-year-old wing, a try-scorer for Ireland against both South Africa and Australia, has not played for his province since the defeat to Toulon in October, but is back for tomorrow, while Scarlets will themselves welcome back a host of Welsh internationals.

Samson Lee, Liam Williams and Jake Ball all played prominent roles for the principality during November and in total nine of their squad were involved in some capacity.

Doak is expecting those returning from Test duty to be pitched straight back into action despite the game coming just one week on from Warren Gatland's men overcoming the Springboks.

"We've played them numerous times and we know what their threats are and how they like to play the game, he said.

"I don't think it'll be any different on Saturday. We know that, like our first game against Scarlets, you've got to play 80 minutes."

Ulster got a draw that day but Doak will know that, come tomorrow, it's win or bust.

Belfast Telegraph


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