Ulster have a point to prove says Nick Timoney

By winning in Clermont last weekend Ulster have already surpassed what they achieved in the Heineken Champions Cup last season when they lost both pool games.

Friday, 17th December 2021, 7:58 am

Ulster dropped into the Challenge Cup, as victories over Harlequins and tonight opponents Northampton Saints saw Dan McFarland’s side reach the semi-final.

But like so many times over the last 16 years, with silverware on the horizon Ulster fell short and the defeat in the last four against Leicester at Welford Road is driving Ireland flanker Nick Timoney’s desire to win a trophy.

“I think we were disappointed with many of our European games last year,” he said. “How we ended up finishing, where we had a lead (in Leicester) and not being able to convert it.

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Nick Timoney of Ulster. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“We have a point to prove, we started that point at the weekend, and I think this week is huge for backing that up and proving we’re serious about Europe this year and we mean business.

“One win isn’t going to do that, so we have to back that up, we have one of our teams from Europe last year again this year, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

“I certainly would have regrets if I ended up racking up a lot of caps over the years and retired without ever having won anything.

“Even getting to the stage where I am now where I’ve won 90-odd caps ( at Ulster) but I actually don’t feel like I’ve accomplished that much because I haven’t won anything yet. It seems like the mindset of the group is in a place where that pretty much is the consensus, so that’s exciting.

“I think we have a group that’s strong, that competes with the best teams in Europe, so why not?

“It’s a tough task to stay on it for the rest of the year and keep progressing because where we’ve got to now doesn’t win us trophies, but if we continue our arc of progression then I think it can do. It’s about every week acting as if it’s season-defining, which in European games like this it probably is.

“We’re getting practice in for big games and making sure we come out on the right end of the result now.

“If you’re talking about winning things, and we’ve been pretty open that that’s our goal, it’s not just about picking up those big wins but it’s about cutting down those losses, if having any at all.

“Certainly backing up what we did last week is huge because we want to eradicate inconsistency, which there’s maybe a hint of in the last few weeks, because the place we want to get to, that doesn’t really cut it.”

To say Ulster need to turn up tonight against the Saints and repeat what they done in Clermont is too simplistic but Timoney will go through the same process.

“It’s about focusing on the same things that we focus on for our big wins,” he said. “Personally I think we were somewhat guilty of changing our focus to the little things you can add, which you do have to do. But when you have a big win, instead of focusing on the things you can add, you should focus on the things that got you that big win, that is the important thing.

“They’re ultimately the basics and the fundamentals of rugby, and we focus on those every week, and if we keep touching up on the smaller things then I think we’ll do well. But it’s certainly not a case of us having switched off or anything of that stuff, I think it’s maybe the big games are bringing out the important stuff in us.”

There are three changes from the side that won in France last week, Craig Gilroy comes onto the wing for the injured Robert Baloucoune, while in the pack Marty Moore and Henderson are both fit enough to return.

Ulster squad: (15-9) Mike Lowry, Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney; (1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, Greg Jones, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore.