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Ulster have no excuses in bid to secure home PRO14 quarter-final: Lyttle

Learning curve: Rob Lyttle passes on some tips to these young Wallace High Preparatory School stars of the future during the week
Learning curve: Rob Lyttle passes on some tips to these young Wallace High Preparatory School stars of the future during the week
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

If things had broken differently for Rob Lyttle last weekend, he could have been playing in front of the biggest crowd of his life in the Aviva Stadium.

The in-form winger would almost certainly have been in the Ulster matchday 23 for the Euro quarter-final loss to Leinster had he been registered for the competition - that he wasn't was the product of an early-season injury followed by a midfield shortage.

Restored to start on the wing against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium tonight (7.35pm kick-off), the 22-year-old instead watched the game from his parents' sofa.

"I wouldn't say it was a pleasant watch but I thought the boys were brilliant," he said of the 21-18 defeat to their old rivals. "They can be really proud of themselves, it was a serious game, nothing to be disappointed about.

"It was not a win but it easily could have been a win if a few things had maybe gone our way.

"But it just shows we can compete at that high level and compete for Championships."

With only six days having passed since such bitter disappointment, for that to happen Ulster will need to shift gears quickly. Their Guinness PRO14 run between securing a European quarter-final berth and last weekend's admirable exit saw them bank 21 points from a possible 25, moving from fifth to second in the conference standings in the process.

While such a position would see them host a game in the first round of the play-offs, such are the margins in their side of the competition that they could still find themselves outside the top three or not qualifying for Europe's top competition next season.

Leinster have already claimed top spot and a first-round bye, but beyond that there are no guarantees for the likes of Ulster, Benetton, Edinburgh or Scarlets.

"During the international period we put ourselves in a very good position too. Finishing those games now to get a home quarter-final is totally on ourselves, no-one else. We just need to do the job ourselves.

"Obviously now that we have gone down and shown we can compete against the best on the big stage, that is where we want to be and we want to keep that up in the PRO14.

"There is knockout rugby still ahead of us, it is in our hands. The quarter-final did not go as we would have liked, but we still have knockout rugby to look forward to. It is not like the season is over.

"I think playing at home is what we want to do and that is all the motivation we need."

Having realised before his try-scoring performance against Southern Kings two weeks ago that he'd not be involved in the Aviva Stadium, Lyttle still had an important role in training to help prepare those that were to take the field.

Similarly this week, as one of five fresh faces to the starting team, he will have been expected to provide energy as the province look to put a heartbreaking reverse behind them.

"I have been on both sides of it, on the starting team and on the team that is not starting, everybody has a job," Lyttle said. "That week leading up to Leinster I knew I was not going to be involved from the start of the week and I knew my role was to prepare the boys as best I could on the other side of the ball.

"Now, it's another week. As difficult as it might be we will brush it under the mat and get back up to take on Glasgow.

"We will take each game as it comes and try and win all three if we can."

Looking to put an injury-riddled few seasons behind him, Lyttle starts this evening opposite Jacob Stockdale pleased with how things have gone of late. He still has more Ulster tries than starts but has already been rewarded with a new deal this season.

While Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble are no longer around, the emergence this year of Robert Baloucoune and Angus Kernohan has produced something of an unsettled pecking order, but it's clear what a fully fit Lyttle can bring to the table.

Pacy, with a nose for tries, he's even shown his goal-kicking skills this season when knocking over six conversions against Zebre recently.

"I am happy enough with how things are going," he said. "I had two difficult seasons and so it was nice to put a run of games together. Just to be trusted by the coaches to step up and play in those games was good. It is always nice when things are going your way.

"A few people wrote me off, I read an article at the start of the year that said I should be cut, so that probably motivated me, but you train with the guys every day and you want to do well for them as well as for yourself, giving back to the guys who have supported you through injury."

Match verdict

Both sides are coming off very different but equally draining Champions Cup defeats. Dan McFarland has brought in five new faces but Glasgow are incredibly tough to beat at home. A bonus point in defeat would be satisfactory.

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