EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP: Ulster players have the belief to succeed in France

Nick Williams scores the first Ulster try against Toulouse last week
Nick Williams scores the first Ulster try against Toulouse last week

Ulster are keen to show they have made progress by going to France on Sunday and winning against Toulouse away for the first time in the European Champions Cup history.

A win would also see them put themselves in a great position to challenge current Pool One leaders Saracens for an automatic qualifying place by finishing top of the group.

Although Ulster are currently nine points behind pool leaders Saracens, they have a game in hand against Oyonnax, and two wins in France would set up a cracking tie in round five when Ulster go to the English Premiership side.

Ulster’s 38-0 walloping of four times chamions Toulouse last Friday at Kingspan Stadium secured five match points and propelled them from bottom to second in the group.

That victory along with Exeter Chiefs’ comeback to defeat Clermont were the two major talking points of round three, although Ulster’s was the stand out game given they produced a complete performance in keeping Toulouse to nil for the first time in the history of the tournament.

Memories flooded back to 2006 when at the former Ravenhill ground Ulster produced a similar display in the first half against the French side going on to win 30-3.

Allen Clarke was assistant coach to Mark McCall back then and Clarke, now back in the fold as assistant coach to Les Kiss, admitted there were some similarities to the games.

“It was about a team having belief in what they could achieve in 2006 and last Friday was the same,” he said.

“I think Friday night brought together many aspects of what we had been working on in training and the analysis room in terms of a coaching team and it was the game we wanted to play with the player group we have

“More importantly in terms of the players, in terms of their understanding and their belief in the ability to play within that organised collective pace with or without the ball and being able to execute the core skills that are needed to complete your tackles, your ball carries, your rip and recoil and your passing.

“It was great having this philosophy if you do not do the basics well and build positive on positive, if you do not back it up with another positive, then the whole thing can fall apart. The opposition get the ball and the rights to the next play.”

Clarke admitted it was a complete performance, but not perfect overall, even if the statistics from the set piece were perfect on paper.

“ There were a lot of aspects we were very satisfied with, but obviously being in this world you are looking at what you need to improve on and you need to have that ambition.

“The guys have been really honest about it this week and that is key. They want to improve.

“The confidence they showed last week to want to execute certain things is something which we want them to have. They have belief more than ever.”

In 2006, while Ulster won that home fixture, they went over to Toulouse and lost 28-13. They have never won at the French venue, although they did have a draw in 2000.

“We have full respect for Toulouse because they are a great side. We were fantastic last weekend, but it was parked over the weekend and the focus turned to what we have to do this weekend.

Clarke added: “First and foremost we recognised we played very well last week and we respect what it took to build that performance to get to that result.

“We have also recognised things that we need to do better this week. I know the scoreline is massive, but when you look at the game there were key moments in it where we took our opportunities and did well under pressure and defend resolutely against that.

“The key for is is recognising what it took to get the win and also respecting we are away from home this week, going to a place we have not won before and a team which has not been beaten at home this season.”

Clarke said the focus was all on getting a result in France this weekend and he was not talking about picking up a point or two.

“We still see the opportunity to top the group, with our game in hand. But we know we have to win this weekend if we are to do that.

“We have to be of that mindset that we can still top the group because if we aim lower then we will not get up to do the job we have set out to do.

“There is no doubt this is a tough challenge for us, but there is the belief we can get over the line,” added Clarke.