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Forget the tight finish, victory over Clermont was huge for Ulster

Bernard Jackman


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Ulster ace Mike Lowry strides forward against Clermont

Ulster ace Mike Lowry strides forward against Clermont

PA

James Hume of Ulster celebrates with the man of the match award

James Hume of Ulster celebrates with the man of the match award

Getty Images

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland

Getty Images

Premier Sports' Bernard Jackman

Premier Sports' Bernard Jackman

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Ulster ace Mike Lowry strides forward against Clermont

If I was Ulster head coach, those final 10 minutes wouldn’t take any of the shine off that performance yesterday. That’s a big win for them.

You have to remember this is a team that’s still earning their stripes, particularly in Europe, and to be able to win 34-31 against a team like Clermont, for me that’s job done, move on.

I remember in 2009 when I was playing for Leinster, we beat Harlequins 6-5 in the Quarter-Finals — it wasn’t pretty but we got the job done, and I think it’s similar for Ulster. I think they’ll be delighted that there were far more positives than negatives from that game rather than focusing on the latter stages.

So I believe Dan McFarland, in the cold light of day, will say that’s a big win in Europe.

Against Clermont, at some period you have to accept that they’re going to be completely dominant because they have unbelievable firepower. Dan will have a lot of questions around game management and some of the defence but, at the end of the day, it’s another win.

What impressed me most was Ulster’s attacking game had a great balance. Against Northampton they were exceptionally good in terms of being able to find the weakness in the defensive chain and exploiting that, but last night they were more balanced — they showed what they can do with ball in hand and their maul was really effective as well.

Ulster are starting to build up a nice repertoire of attacking options and that’s what you need because you need to have a balance to keep opponents on their toes. It’s a joy to watch.

They have improving to do if they’re to be serious contenders for a trophy but I think they’re in a really good place because this is the most open competition I’ve seen for a long time.

Toulouse, the holders, are the most powerful team, Leinster are obviously going to be good, Racing have a lot of power, but you don’t need to be No.1 coming out of the group stages, it’s about building momentum, making your home ground a fortress and finding ways to go away from home and win — and in this competition Ulster have done all three.

They’re ticking along really nicely and finding some real talent like the young guys being picked for Ireland, and the front five, which I was worried about, aren’t getting bullied by the big teams.

So, for me, that’s a big win. I genuinely believe to be able to win that game, even though it got tight at the end, will stand to them. They have to remember it’s not about now — you can’t win the competition in January but you can lose it. Ulster will have learned some lessons and they’ll be in the knockouts, which is brilliant.

In the meantime, going back into the URC, I don’t know what kind of mentality they’ve had for those European games, but they seem to get their game to a different level. I imagine they’ll try and replicate that in the League because now you’re at the most important stage of the season.

They have to target some of the away games, do a job and get the points because I think the League this year is going to be very competitive, which affects your qualification for Europe. I imagine Dan has made changes in his preparation to get those performances away from home. It’s worked in Europe, let’s see if it can work in the URC.

Bernard Jackman is part of the Premier Sports team bringing live coverage of every Ulster game home and away throughout the season in the United Rugby Championship.

The next URC fixture for Ulster will be at Kingspan Stadium against the Scarlets on Friday, kicking off at 7.35pm. This home fixture will be live and exclusive on Premier Sports.

Premier Sports will also be showing Ulster’s two rearranged inter-pro matches, which were postponed at Christmas, against Connacht on Friday, February 4 (kick off 8.15pm) and Leinster on Saturday, March 12 at 7.35pm.

Both games will be hosted at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

For further details view www.premiersports.com


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