Losing to Munster at home in the Guinness PRO12 has not put a dent in Ulster’s confidence as they head into a pivotal Pool One European Champions Cup match against Oyonnax on Sunday afternoon assistant coach Neil Doak insists.
Having completed the double over Toulouse in the group to put them right back in contention for qualification to the knockout stages having suffered a heavy home loss to current pool leaders Saracens, and won back to back games in the Guinness PRO12, Ulster suffered a disappointing 9-7 loss at home to Munster.
It was not the best preparation as they looked ahead to three massive European Cup games in January - needing a minimum of 10 points from them if they are to almost guarantee a place in the last eight and probably as one of three best runners-up.
However Doak insists the loss was not a dent in the side’s confidence, although he admitted Ulster should have won it.
“It is maybe different when you actually cannot put your finger on what lost you a game. We made a few mistakes in key areas and couple of great chances to score and just did not capitalise on them,” he said.
“In previous games they were going for us so we just got to make sure we are focused and have our mindset right that when we get in the right areas this week especially that we put points on the board. I think that is key. If we had to get a try or a penalty and get that little bit of leeway against Munster it may have been different.
“That is why against the big teams you have to make sure you take every opportunity, if you do not and leave it late, the better teams can come back into the games. Obviously Munster did well and got the win.”
Ulster are now the only side from Ireland who have a route to the knockout stages and today’s rescheduled game in Oyonnax - it was postponed in November due to the Paris Terror attacks - is a must win for the Province.
A bonus point victory against the side who are struggling in the Top 14 and have not won a game in Pool One would also strengthen their case.
However, Doak disagreed that five match points was a must from the game.
“ If we can win the next three games we will be there or thereabouts either as top of the pool or one of the best runners up.
“We just have to focus on getting our structures right. If that comes by us keeping our structure and discipline it is brilliant for us, but we know they are a dangerous side.
“They have obviously done really well to qualify for Europe this season and it has not gone as well as they had hoped. They beat Stade at home a couple of weeks ago and Stade beat Toulouse last weekend. We know it is a pretty topsy turvy top 14.
“We cannot underestimate Oyonnax at all. They have quality players across the board and in Europe to get out of your group it is unbelievably difficult at the best of times and we just have to cous on ourselves this weekend.”
Oyonnax: Quentin Etienne; Dug Codjo, Alaska Taufa, Eamonn Sheridan, Uwa Tawalo; Nicky Robinson, Julien Blanc; Laurent Delboulbès, Jeremie Maurouard, Marc Clerc, George Robson, Fabrice Metz, Pierrick Gunther, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Pedrie Wannenburg
Replacements: Thomas Bordes, Stan Wright, Horace Pungea , Leon Power, Viliami Maafu, Arthur Aziza, Rory Clegg, Daniel Ikpefan
Ulster Rugby: Craig Gilroy; Sam Arnold, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Rory Scholes; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Kyle McCall, Rory Best (c), Ricky Lutton, Lewis Stevenson, Franco Van Der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Bronson Ross, Nick Williams, Sean Reidy, Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Jackson, Louis Ludik