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Ulster must not over-react to double defeat, says Timoney

Heineken Champions Cup

Positive approach: Nick Timoney has warned against overreacting to Ulster’s recent losses
Positive approach: Nick Timoney has warned against overreacting to Ulster’s recent losses
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

One of the beauties of European rugby has always been the more varied fixtures the competition throws up, but when it comes to Ulster and the Leicester Tigers on Saturday, the phrase 'there's more that unites than divides' comes to mind.

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The pair have shared some memorable tussles over the years, clashing eight times in the tournament. Ulster have met only Stade Francais and Toulouse more frequently.

The 33-0, Paul Marshall's late bonus point try, the Ruan Pienaar show at Welford Road - all moments that have gone into recent Ulster lore.

There is more, though, than a shared collection of numerous 80 minutes on the same field.

While the shelves of Leicester's trophy cabinet are under considerably more strain than those in BT6, the two sides are both in the middle of fallow runs after unprecedented domestic dominance, Ulster between 1984-1994, and Leicester from 2005 up to as recently as 2013.

Both's victories in this competition (Ulster in 1999 and Leicester in 2000 and 2001) now seem very much of a different time, while both have played second fiddle of late to somewhat-out-of-the-blue success from football teams playing nearby.

Both have a first-time head coach picking up a particularly tricky baton and trying to run with it and both, as a result, have had their stumbles.

But while Leicester come into the weekend buoyed by derby success - Geordan Murphy's men beat Northampton in Twickenham on Saturday afternoon, their second win on the bounce - defeats at the hands of their nearest and dearest have Ulster licking their wounds.

Almost six decades had passed since Connacht last tasted victory in Belfast but they did so on Friday night, winning 22-15 after their hosts had Matty Rea sent off 11 seconds after half-time.

As a follow-up to the humbling record defeat to Munster in Thomond Park, it was hardly what the doctor ordered at the end of an unbeaten run that had previously stretched all the way back to March.

Flanker Nick Timoney, whose try on Friday at least secured a losing bonus point, believes it would be wrong to over-react to a two-game slump.

"We get into a habit of thinking things are worse than they are," he said.

"Like, we went into that Munster game having not lost in nine games.

"I think we can take the fact that it was a hell of a lot better than the last week.

"(Against Munster) it felt like we were a good bit off the pace and it didn't feel like we were here. We weren't much away from winning that game.

"The last two weeks, they're not ideal but we don't turn into a bad team overnight. We're not 100 miles away."

Still, the in-form youngster adds that the last two weeks should provide something of a "kick."

"A loss like that, if it doesn't spark a change then there's obviously something wrong," he said. "It's obviously not great for confidence but it's a kick if you ever need it.

"It's a bad result so you need to react."

With Scarlets and Racing 92 also in the pool - the Parisians are in west Wales this weekend - there is little doubt that, up against two of last season's final four, a quick start will be imperative.

The northern province will also be aware that domestic slip-ups are quickly forgotten if a European run can be carried into the early weeks of 2019, and even beyond, but a trip to La Defense Arena in round two offers even further motivation for protecting their home record.

Their cause has not been helped by the fact that, in the wake of last summer's multiple departures and retirements of experienced figures, their supposed replacements have been largely unavailable to new coach Dan McFarland.

While Billy Burns has been leaned upon heavily, Will Addison has missed the last four games, Jordi Murphy has played just once, his fellow former Leinsterman Marty Moore not at all.

Wallaby winger Henry Speight has featured four times butmissed both derbies with a knee problem. Ulster will hope to have at least some of that number back for the first European encounter, with Craig Gilroy also expected to be fighting for a spot.

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