Ulster remain positive in spite of being down to bare bones

5''Ulster head coach Neil Doak during kicking practice in Toulon
5''Ulster head coach Neil Doak during kicking practice in Toulon

Ulster coach Neil Doak admits the European campaign has been disappointing this season and he wishes he had just been able to give it a “real lash” with a full panel availabel for selection.

Ulster registered 38 players for the European Champions Cup at the start of the season – since the home defeat to Toulon in Belfast back in October he has been down to the bare bones in terms of selection.

You could forgive Doak for feeling a bit low and down on his luck – but to his and the rest of Ulster Rugby they are not using their lack of front line players as an excuse.

Ulster face European double champions Toulon on Saturday afteroon at the Stade Mayol.

The star-studded French Top 14 champions – who look more like a World XV – are currently leading Pool Three and know a bonus point win will keep their dream of a hat-trick of European Cups on course.

Against Scarlets in December Ulster had 27 players from which to chose their 23 match-day squad.

They were on the brink.

This week with Rory Best, Tommy Bowe and Craig Gilroy all rested under the IRFU player welfare programme – although the trio are due to play against Leiester Tigers in the final pool game in Belfast next Saturday evening -–plus additional injuries Ulster were down to the bare bones.

Doak named a side yesterday before flying off to France which showed seven changes and two posititional switches from the side which were 24-20 winners against Treviso last week in the PRO12.

Doak said: “When you are playing against a star-studded side, its difficult when you don’t have full resources.

“We know that it’s not going to be easy this weekend but we have nothing to lose.

“Europe is gone for us and we want to work on the things that we have been trying in training.

“We will go and try and stretch them and we are just aiming to focus on ourselves and use the ball wisely.”

“We know that we are not on the same plain as Toulon in terms of the resources,” added Doak.

“It is unfortunate with the resources that we have. We have not been able to give the competition a real lash as we would have wanted.

“That’s frustrating because I know that if we had a full squad then a few of those games would have turned out differently with fresher legs.

“The pressure is off us in the game and we just have to go over there, be as fresh as we can and come back here for Leicester the following week.

“It is a little bit strange with no realistic chance of qualifying but European games are always exciting.

“We have nothing to lose and the pressure is on Toulon. We have to make sure that we use the ball and if we get in for a few scores – who knows?”

Toulon, have as expected, named a strong line-up, with plenty in reserve on the bench.

They are looking to end a poor run of Top14 results with a home victory

Toulon: L Halfpenny; D Mitchell, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, B Habana; N Sanchez, S Tillous-Borde; X Chiocci, G Guirado, M Castrogiovanni; J Suta, A Williams; J Smith, S Armitage, C Masoe (cpt).

Replacements: J-C Orioli, F Fresia, C Hayman, M Gorgodze, R Wulf, D Smith, E Escande, R Taofifenua.

Ulster: J Payne; L Ludik, D Cave, S Olding, M Allen; P Jackson, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Herring, B Ross; A O’Connor, F Van der Merwe; C Ross, M McComish, R Wilson (cpt).

Replacements: J Andrew, C Black, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, R Diack, P Marshall, I Humphreys, M Heaney.