Adapting better to difficult playing conditions was the reason Ulster defeated Harlequins 17-5 at The Stoop on Sunday believed captain Iain Henderson.
Ulster were deserved winners with Irish winger Jacob Stockdale scoring their try, while John Cooney added four penalties to pick up the Heineken man of the match award. Prop Kyle Sinckler scored an unconverted try at the start of the second half - but they rarely threatened the visitors.
The win leaves Ulster second in Pool One on eight points as they chase down La Rochelle, seven points ahead of them, for the automatic qualification spot on offer.
The game was played in freezing, blustery and snowy conditions, turning the game into a war of attrition, which Ulster were better able to cope with, believed Henderson.
“We spoke about it before the game - the conditions, as they were, were going to make the game scrappy,” said Henderson. “High balls were going to be tough, loose passes were going to be hard to gather, and there was an awful lot of scraps.
"We just concentrated that if there were any balls on the ground, we were going to make them ours and win as many of their turnovers as possible.
“I think in the first half we definitely did it. Second half we let them put us under a bit of pressure on our own line. Following that we managed to keep them out of our 22 for most of the second half after that.”
Henderson also highlighted his pack’s efficiency against a bigger Quins unit as the bedrock for victory.
“Harlequins have a very big pack, a fair bit bigger than us,” said Henderson. And we knew we had to get stuck in. A pack that likes to drive as much as they do, we knew we had to get our stuff right.
“In terms of maul defence we tried to push them at their front.”
The fixture will be repeated at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast this weekend with Ulster well aware of a backlash from the Premiership side in the Euro back to back games.
"It’s a perfect opportunity for them to come back next week. In these back to back you always see teams hitting back with a big performance, especially when it’s only a five- or six-day turnaround. So, we’ll be expecting them to come all guns blazing on Friday,” added Henderson.
Man of the match Cooney also highlighted Ulster’s ability to play the conditions better than their opponents, and use their wingers in the air, as key to the win.
“It was cold, it was wet, but we knew we had to play the air, that was one of our attacking tactics. We knew our wingers had the ability to get up in the air, all week it was our game plan. And I think conditions were perfect for that,” said Cooney.
“It’s just the first of two games, so we need to back it up again. It’s a quick turnaround, we’ve been licking our lips for both these games, so we can’t wait for Friday.”