Michael Lowry eyeing home comfort with Ulster

Ulster against the Shark’s at Kingspan Stadium tonight (7.35pm) is not a case of the loser going home for the summer, but full back Michael Lowry admits it has all the feel of a knockout game.

By Ciaran Donaghy
Friday, 20th May 2022, 9:34 am

Both sides are already qualified for the United Rugby Championship quarter-finals, but what is at stake is the right to host a last-eight tie.

Ulster need to win to have the quarter-final in Belfast, and after exiting Europe in the last-16 on home soil against Toulouse, Ireland full back Lowry wants to give the fans something to cheer about in knockout rugby this season.

“This is a huge game in terms of getting a home quarter-final or not,” said Lowry.

Ulster’s Michael Lowry (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“The fans can give us an extra boost in a home quarter-final so it pretty much is a last-16 round in terms of getting ourselves into a quarter-final spot and we have to deal with it as a really important game.

“Getting a home quarter-final is absolutely massive to spur you on to reach the semi-final, so this game is so important and is a must-win game for both sides with a point in it between us.

“It could be the difference for us travelling away to South Africa or staying at home in front of a home crowd, and we all know how tough South Africa is to go away to.

“It pretty much could define the season and if we win this game it could build a little bit of momentum going into the knockout stages.

“I suppose Toulouse are such a good side and we made a couple of mistakes that let them into it, I don’t feel we were outplayed or anything.

“There were a couple of mistakes that let them into the game and they have stars that can finish off anything.

“They weren’t necessarily the better side and I think that’s what we need to remember, that we’ve been the better side in the majority of our games.

“If we can take that into this game and then secure ourselves a home quarter-final we know what we can do and what we are capable of.

“So, yeah, we just need to focus on ourselves now.”

The Sharks include Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi, Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am in their starting line up for the Ulster clash.

All four started the 2019 World Cup final when South Africa beat England 32-11, Mapimpi got the Springboks first try in the decider.

The Sharks are the third highest scorers in the table and Lowry knows Ulster can’t be sloppy in the defence.

“The Sharks have some serious athletes, and we don’t want it to get too unstructured because they have quality players who can make something out of nothing similar to Toulouse,” he said.

“We’ll try and play at our speed and keep a good tempo in the game, we know how physical they’ll be and that’ll be a real battle we’ll have to be ahead of.”

Ulster skipper Iain Henderson and centre Stuart McCloskey have both been passed fit to face the South African’s.

The Irish international duo both departed Ulster’s last outing against Edinburgh with less than 10 minutes on the clock.

Ulster team to play Cell C Sharks, United Rugby Championship Round 18:

(15-9): Mike Lowry, Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;

(1-8): Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Gareth Milasinovich, Kieran Treadwell, Matty Rea, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle.