RUGBY UNION: There will be no room for sentiment as Allen Clarke returns to face Ulster

Ospreys' Allen Clarke
Ospreys' Allen Clarke

It will be a case of mixed emotions for Allen Clarke on Sunday when he brings the Ospreys back to Belfast for a European Champions Cup play-off game against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (3:05pm).

The former Ulster player and assistant coach moved to the Welsh region last season as forwards coach.

But he is now top man at Liberty Stadium in Swansea having taken on the head coach’s role on a three-year deal.

He is a proud Ulsterman at heart - and always will be - but there will no room for sentiment on Sunday when he returns to a ground he has played and coached at.

And while the Ospreys players could be celebrating a victory around 4.30pm - you will not see Clarke displaying any signs of triumphalism. That will be done off pitch.

The stakes could not be higher for either side.

The victor will secure the seventh and final European Champions Cup place from the PRO14 next season.

“It is a cup final, winner takes all,” says Clarke.

“This is a high stake game and the prize is huge. We want it and Ulster want it.

“You want to be playing in the top tier of Europe next season.

“We are a progressive club and the players want to be playing against the top sides in Europe.

“The Challenge Cup does have quality clubs competing in it, but you earn the right to play in the Champions Cup through your domestic performance.

“When you look at where we were in January, you would not have given high hopes for us to be involved in a play-off for Europe.

“But credit to the players for digging in, getting a series of good results and putting us in this position now.

“It is winner takes all and in a profound way this is ours and Ulster’s final.

“If you look at the calibre of player we have and are going to have next season we want to test those players and the players would like to test themselves against the best teams in Europe.

“The winner of this game historically will be in quite a tough group in Europe it would be a real challenge for both squads next season, but for now it is about the 80 minutes on Sunday, we have to put the building blocks in place to make sure we are in the contest, because we know that Ulster have a really good team, individuals who can hurt you from distance and close in.

The sides met a month ago in Belfast with Ulster taking the spoils 8-0, a result which secured the Province home advantage for Sunday’s showdown.

“This is different, there are really high stakes. It will come down to one or two special moments,” said Clarke.

Silverware has eluded Ulster since 2006 when they were Celtic League champions.

Ironically, Clarke was assistant coach to Mark McCall at the time and it was a last gasp David Humphreys drop goal against Ospreys in Swansea which secured the trophy for Ulster.

“Sport can be very ironic,” laughed Clarke. “Those were good times and then and more recently I enjoyed coaching at Ulster.

“I came away for the right reasons. I am still quite friendly with Les Kiss so for me, I am proud Ulsterman but if I was to choose anywhere else to live than Ulster it would definitely be where I am now.

“I am happy, content and working with a group of boys who are ambitious and there is a good connection there it is a good place to be.

“And I and the players are excited about going back to Belfast,” he added.