Leicester Tigers v Ulster: Stuart McCloskey wants Ulster to take that last step

Stewart McCloskey during Captain's Run at Kingspan Stadium
Stewart McCloskey during Captain's Run at Kingspan Stadium

With one foot in the last eight of the European Champions Cup Stuart McCloskey wants Ulster to get that final step over the line this afternoon.

Ulster go to Welford Road to take on Leicester Tigers in their final pool four game knowing a single match point will be enough to secure their place at the top table in Europe for the first time since 2014.

Edinburgh’s win over Montpellier last night took some pressure off Ulster ahead of Satruday afternoon’s game, but Dan McFarland’s men want to go and finish the job this season after the class of 2018 slipped up at the final hurdle last year.

For Ulster to miss on qualification they would have to take no match points from Welford Road and Exeter would have to win against Munster at Thomond Park and do so with a try scoring bonus.

That would see Exeter through on a better points difference (and they also have a better try count) than Ulster.

“We have to put our best foot forward,” insisted centre McCloskey.

“It would be amazing for us to reach the next stage.

“I’ve never got to the quarter-finals of Europe and that’s in four or five years so it’s something that we’re really aiming for and we know we’ve put ourselves in the position to get there and it’s about executing this weekend.”

Ulster put themselves right back in the mix with two impressive performances over Scarlets which saw them pick up a maximum of 10 match points to propel them into second place in Pool Four.

In spite of some disappointing results in the derby series of games in the Guinness PRO14 - albeit with ‘limited teams’ Ulster stepped up in Europe last weekend to defeat pool four leaders Racing 92 26-22 at a packed Kingspan Stadium.

Now the Province need to produce another big performance to achieve what they need to progress - and if Scarlets were to spring a surprise in Paris against Racing - Ulster could top the pool with a win against the English Premiership side.

“We’re just taking the mindset that we need to go to Leicester and win and not worry about other results going our way.

“They didn’t go our way last year so we know not to wait for them.”

McCloskey watched the Edinburgh v Montpellier game last night and admitted he would be doing so with an Edinburgh shirt on.

McCloskey played at Welford Road previously, in 2014, when Ulster lost 25-18.

“I remember Tommy Bowe scored a nice try for us towards the end, but it is a tough place to go,” added McCloskey.

It can be an intimidating place but McCloskey looks to a big start from Ulster to take the sting out of the crowd.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to go there and quieten it with a big start and keep that performance up,” he said.

“We started well in our last game and that carried us through even when we had a wee bad spell so hopefully we can do the same this weekend.”

With the chance to join the big names in Europe a foot step away McCloskey does not want to miss out.

“It’s good to be back there again. Last year we were pretty close, even though we didn’t have a great year overall, and we struggled the year before but we’re normally there or thereabouts so it’s just about taking that last step and getting there.”

Ulster put Leicester out of the Cup previously at the pool stages in a similar scenario as to today, how dangerous can a side be that have nothing to play for.

“I know if that was us we’d be going out there and trying a few things and it could go either way. Sometimes you can go out and everything will go for you or it might not but we’ve just got to take our game plan in and what we’re preparing for and what we think we’ll do so we’ve just got to worry about ourselves,” said McCloskey.