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McCall: Ulster need to be relentless to clinch Clermont victory

By Michael Sadlier

Last Saturday's 39-32 Champions Cup victory over Clermont was breathtakingly fast and wonderfully furious, which was just fine as far as Kyle McCall was concerned.

Ulster's loose-head prop isn't exactly one for simply doing his stuff at the set-piece while also putting in the occasional tackle around the fringe of a ruck.

For McCall, performing requires him to show up in the loose and do more than his bit to keep the ball alive with some unusually deft handling skills for a prop, an ability honed when he was younger and practising with "wee brother" Zack who is a hooker at the Ulster Academy .

That desire to have the ball and create space for himself and others was, typically, in evidence in last weekend's epic first-up meeting with the French.

It was a real lung-buster for all the players, though particularly the front row, where McCall put in a fairly decent 55-minute shift.

And he admits that he was feeling it after the end-to-end intensity of one of the greatest games to be played at the Kingspan Stadium

"It was hard, but I quite like it (that way)," stated the 24-year-old of the nine-try thriller. "It was definitely tough to keep up with the pace of the game, but that's what I like to do.

"It was one of the hardest games I've ever been involved in and one of the fastest."

And just in case you might have thought that Ulster could be approaching Sunday in a different mindset going to Clermont's Stade Marcel Michelin fortress, McCall makes it clear that more of the same is the only way to do it over in France.

"I think we need to continue with that pace in our game," he said of Sunday's second instalment in round four of the Champions Cup with Pool Five no longer a one-horse race.

"It's going to be the same sort of game, it's going to be fast as they like to play and so do we. If we let up in any way it will be a completely different game so we need to go in with the intensity we brought to the first game. If we can do that, hopefully we can get on the right end of it."

But, of course, there is ample room for improvement as the sides prepare to face-off again with McCall admitting that Ulster's scrum wasn't quite on the money, while conceding four tries - and two bonus points - to Les Jaunards was a poor enough return defensively after, at one point, being 39-18 up.

"First and foremost, it comes down to the scrums and we weren't overly happy with them," admitted McCall.

"That's something where we can really improve come Sunday and we have to work on our combinations and as an eight.

"Sometimes we were working (last weekend) by ourselves but if we can work as a unit I think it will be a real strength for us.

"We need to think more about us and not about them and if we can do that, as a pack, I think we'll do a lot better."

And defensively, the mantra is all about staying focused in the heat of battle.

"That's (the defence) something we also weren't so happy about," he added.

"Our defence at times saw us come off a few tackles and we really need to tighten up on that over there."

Much has been made of Clermont's formidable home record and the hugely intimidating atmosphere which is so much part of the experience.

Rory Best, Ruan Pienaar, Chris Henry and Paul Marshall were all part of the squad which narrowly lost there in 2012's final round of group games, the year Ulster made it all the way to the final after making it to the knockout stages as a best runner-up.

Indeed, McCall name-checks Best as being someone who has been reminding them of the wall of noise they can expect to face on Sunday, never mind the much-anticipated backlash likely to be unleashed by the rather stung Top 14 leaders.

Of course, Ulster are no strangers to winning in France - last season they defeated Toulouse in their back-to-back games and Oyonnax, while Montpellier and Castres have also been taken down in previous seasons - but McCall downplays any notion that Clermont are there for the taking too.

"It's a help that we've been winning there (in France) and it is something to take pride from," he said, having banked the experience of playing in those games at Toulouse and Oyonnax.

"But Clermont away is a completely different challenge and it will be one of the biggest games to be involved in.

"It's a cauldron of a place to go to and we know their supporters are very passionate."

But can they do it and put themselves in a great position to push on for qualification? McCall carefully answers and then, neatly, throws in his own question.

"We need to believe in ourselves. We believe in every player who steps out on the pitch," he said.

"We believe in each other both as a team and a unit, and hopefully we can do it. But it's all or nothing now isn't it?"

Meanwhile, Ballymena centre Callum Patterson will be replacing Sam Windsor in Ulster's senior squad after the Australian, who played for the province on three occasions, requested an early release from his Kingspan contract to go over and play in the United States.

  • Clermont v Ulster, Champions Cup Pool Five: Stade Marcel-Michelin, Sunday, 3.05 pm

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