Today’s Guinness PRO12 encounter with Zebre in Parma was always going to be a must win for Ulster and the pressure intensified further after Friday night’s results on the opening series of games in Round 19.
In spite of losing 30-23 in Dublin, Edinburgh’s losing bonus point pushed them into the top six as Munster dropped to seventh on points difference.
The Scots are two points behind Ulster and while both the latter and Munster are still to play today, the race not only for play-off spots in the PRO12, but places in next season’s European Champions Cup (top six finishers) has intensified.
Ulster now have the opportunity to move into fourth place, provided they win against Zebre and defending champions Glasgow Warriors (in third place) were to win at fourth placed Scarlets on Saturday afternoon.
Ulster director of rugby, Les Kiss, made it clear earlier this week that this weekend could determine their season.
“The only thing that matters is the game against Zebre. It is a must win situation for us,” admitted Kiss.
“Teams will pick points off each other this week...and next...and the week after.
“Getting a top-four place is a realistic ambition and after this game we will have a clearer picture of things.
“But for us it is the hear and now and the only thing that matters is going over there and getting what we need.
“We just have to look after ourselves and meet the challenge.
“Yes, we know that a bonus point is the more preferable option.
“It is something that we will back ourselves to get, but we also know that it will not come by virtue of just turning up and hoping they eventually fall for you.
“They (Zebre) just do not do that. They are a better team, particularly at home, so the focus is on the things that we think will make a difference,
“We jave to go through the process, we have to build pressure and do the things that get the scores and separate the scoreline and keep them out of that space, hopefully we can go on with it.
“It just will not come easy. I do not think it will be an easy task to get the bonus point, but we have to have in our minds to get there we have to do the things in the logical order.
“Getting our basics right I think that is the key to it and if we can do that well hopefully we can get what we need out of it.
“If we do not get the bonus point it is not the death knell but it helps the whole process for sure.”
Meanwhile, Ireland’s premier rugby 7s competition, The Dublin 7’s Festival, has announced further details of its blockbuster line up that will feature leading Irish provinces, Leinster and Ulster, the national sides of Italy, Germany, and Norway as well as the Samurai International team and European heavyweight clubs; Biarritz and London Wasps.
Ulster can expect tough opposition from the Samurai International team who have become known for their eye catching kit and display sublime skills as well as the Italian national side who are ranked in the top 15 in the world.
Two time European Cup winners, London Wasps, and Rio 2016 hopefuls, Germany, add plenty of fire power to the line-up and the power and skill of both Biarritz and team Norway are sure to entertain and thrill in equal measures.
The event will be staged at Donnybrook, Dublin, on May 28 and there will also be a domestic competition.
Tickets start at €15 for general admission and are available at www.dublin7sfestival.ie
The festival will also boast a domestic competition with current AIL Champions, Lansdowne FC among the favourites. Old Belvedere, UCD, Trinity College, St Mary’s, Bective Rangers, Blackrock College and Old Wesley will have other ideas as they look to display their class in the fast paced 7s format.