Neil Doak admits Ulster are approaching a crucial period of their season

Ulster coach Neil Doak
Ulster coach Neil Doak

There is no time for Ulster to dwell on the disappointments of their last European Champions Cup outing as they prepare for a crunch top of the table Guinness PRO12 game against Ospreys on Saturday in Swansea (5.15pm).

It may be second and against fourth in the standings, but both clubs are on 31 points and Ulster head coach, Neil Doak, accepts the game in Wales – plus the upcoming Irish derby fixtures with Connacht and Leinster – could define their season.

“This is always a period, for every team, that defines the season,” Doak said.

“You’ve four European games and local derbies. They’re heavy duty games and we’re under no illusions that we need to deliver in the next PRO12 games and then take stock ahead of the last two Europeans.

“Facing the Ospreys in a top table game is ideal to focus the minds after the disappointment of losing to Scarlets,” added Doak, who still refuses to throw the towel in on the club’s European Cup qualification hopes in spite of sitting bottom of Pool Three.

“Mathematically, we can still make the last eight,” said Doak.

“We know it is a big ask but facing Toulon (away) and Leicester Tigers (home) bring added incentive to the players to want to go out and perform.”

Andy Warwick signed his first professional contract earlier this week and fellow loose head prop, Callum Black agreed a new three-year extension on Friday.

Warwick will start for Ulster with Black on the bench.

It was one of two changes Doak made to the side which lost to Scarlets with Michael Allen starting on the wing in place of Craig Gilroy who is rested.

Stuart Olding is the only player on a lengthy injury list who returns to action, named on the bench.

“Resources are stretched, but that is no excuse,” said Doak.

“But that is no excuse, we feel we have a good enough squad and we still have to deliver.”

The Ospreys came to Belfast a month ago and suffered their first defeat in the PRO12 campaign. Since then they have not won a game in any competition – although they did draw at home with French side Racing Metro in the European Cup.

“They are a good side and will have been disappointed with their results in Europe as well.

“They have not lost at home so we know exactly what we are facing.” said Doak.