Ulster seek domestic form as Guinness PRO14 resumes with Dragons visit

Ulster's Henry Speight is back in training following a knee injury
Ulster's Henry Speight is back in training following a knee injury

The return to Guinness PRO14 action for Ulster brings with it the reality check they have not won a game in three matches in the competition.

With the European Champions Cup’s first two rounds completed, it is back to domestic action when Dragons are the visitors to Kingspan Stadium, Belfast on Friday night.

Ulster did break the poor run of a draw and two losses with an opening round home win over Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Cup, but they suffered a heavy 44-12 loss in Paris to Racing 92.

The scoreline failed to do Dan McFarland’s side justice, although it was always likely the Top 14 side were going to win in La Defense Arena.

In the past few weeks across both competitions, in spite of a higher losing ratio to winning, Ulster have shown progression and improvements in aspects of their game.

There will always be work-ons and the areas of concern remain with accuracy, particularly at the breakdown and a clinical edge in attack.

Racing 92 gave them a lesson in both.

Both head coach, McFarland and captain Rory Best have highlighted that they feel steps are being made forwards.

It was always to be expected with Ulster going into what is a transitional period with new players and coaching staff it would take time to come together.

This is probably as good a week as any to show that further and winning a game comfortably at home against the Welsh side.

It is followed by a tricky trip to Italy to face a resurgent Benetton Treviso with the November Test series already starting to bite with Ireland facing Italy the following night in Chicago.

But the focus is on Dragons on Friday night and a team that has not won away in the Celtic League competition in 35 matches.

One is careful not to talk about historical statistics around Ulster at present given their last two games in the PRO14 saw them record their heaviest even loss (64-7 at Munster) and a first home defeat to Connacht (22-15) in nearly 60 years.

There is a boost to the side with the potential return of hooker Rob Herring and back Henry Speight, who all resumed training this week following injury.

Ultimately it will be about producing a performance that will lead to the right result on Friday night.

And reflecting on a tough night in Paris, while the scoreline was lopsided, the right team won and it inevitably was the difference between what both coaches have available in terms of resources - a huge gap to close for the Irish Province.

“I don’t see that as a gap, I see it as two teams,” he said. “They just work in a different resources world to us. At no stage were we ever sitting there saying we desperately want those resources, we are what we are.

“We have strengths that I believe they don’t have and we’ll use those.

“Ulster has a proud tradition, it’s a province with an identity, it’s a province that has a deep legacy and a hunger among its fanbase and players to do well.

“As a team, that’ll be our strength going forward and we’ll build on that.

“It’ll be about getting good players together and pulling them together as a team.”

“We’re a work in progress,” McFarland added. “We’ll keep working on where we want to go and the style of play we want to play, we’ll work on the defensive side and the set piece.

“We have Dragons at home this week and the last two games we had in the PRO14 we lost, one we were comfortably beaten and the Connacht game was a disappointing game even if it came down to a couple of cards and a couple of things we did wrong.

“We have to rectify that next week, that’s massive for us, he added.