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We have the edge to make big splash at Bath, says O'Connor


Tough test: Ulster’s Alan O’Connor at Kingspan Stadium this week ahead of tomorrow’s big Champions Cup clash at Bath
Tough test: Ulster’s Alan O’Connor at Kingspan Stadium this week ahead of tomorrow’s big Champions Cup clash at Bath
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

For all the obvious quality possessed by Ulster teams and individuals in recent decades, few would be associated with having a nasty streak.

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Tales of stud marks down the back after breakdown shoeings and self-policing scrums are things of the past throughout the game but, even by modern standards, the northern province aren't a side often accused of offending the opposition's sensibilities

It was interesting, therefore, to witness those early exchanges between the two packs when Dan McFarland's side travelled to Limerick for a derby with Munster last weekend.

Set-piece penalties were celebrated in the face of the opposition, while every big hit and dislodged ball was met by whooping and hollering, with summer recruit Jack McGrath often front and centre.

Perhaps that's what McFarland meant this week when talking of the "bite and fight" he wants to see from his side on intimidating trips to the likes of Thomond Park or, as they will face tomorrow in their Champions Cup opener, Bath's Recreation Ground.

"It's celebrating the little wins," explained lock Alan O'Connor. "Whether it's a big hit or a turnover, it's making sure we're geeing ourselves up when we're not getting it from anywhere else. Marty Moore put in a big hit on CJ Stander a couple of times and we all love to see that kind of stuff, so if you're beside him when he does it you make sure you tell him.

"You've got to compliment (team-mates) if they do something good, and if they do something bad, you make sure you tell them next play as well.

"You've got one mate to your left and one to your right, so always speak to them, they're never too far away."

The sight of players roaring at anyone in the vicinity has become most readily associated with European champions Saracens and their self-styled 'Wolfpack' image, but the likes of McGrath, coming from another winning culture at Leinster, seems set to be a driver of the sought after edge.

"He's a great lad," said O'Connor of his fellow Dubliner. "He's just a really good fella. Jack's a top man, on and off the field.

"He obviously brings a lot of experience and playing against Munster, it's always personal isn't it? It was personal for him and he brought that out in himself. He saw it as a one-on-one battle against his opposite man, and I think he got the upper hand on him."

Even in defeat at Thomond, Ulster's pack set a decent platform and will be required to do so again tomorrow against a Bath side who demolished the Northampton Saints' forward unit last time out.

"It was a really good test for us in the set-piece, and in the scrum and the maul we definitely showed how much of a force we can be when we do the simple things well and make sure we're tight as an eight," O'Connor said.

"The scrum was very good, we got a few penalties, we got a try off the maul.

"I think we're definitely going to need that this weekend."

Bath vs Ulster

Heineken Champions Cup - Pool Three

The Recreation Ground, Tomorrow, 1.00pm

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