Ulster still in a tight spot

Ulster captain Rory Best speaks to his players after the Guinness PRO14 win over Ospreys
Ulster captain Rory Best speaks to his players after the Guinness PRO14 win over Ospreys

Ulster find themselves really under the cosh this weekend when they face Glasgow Warriors in their rearranged Guinness PRO14 game in Belfast.

In spite of back-to-back wins in an effort to turn their season’s fortunes, Ulster are still unable to cut a break.

Having battled out a deserved 8-0 win over Ospreys on Friday night at Kingspan Stadium to cut the deficit between them and Edinburgh to four points in the race for third place in Conference B, Ulster had to sit and watch the Scots score a half century during their win over Scarlets at Murrayfield.

That put Richard Cockerill’s side nine points clear.

Then in another twist, European Cup semi-finalists and Conference B winners Leinster, suffered a shock defeat at home to Benetton Rugby, 17-15.

That ensured the Italians remained a point behind Ulster to really turn up the heat in the race to finish in fourth place which also guarantees a play-off spot for a European Champions Cup place next season.

Saturday’s game in hand against Glasgow, who have already qualified for the PRO14 final series, is a must win game for the Ulstermen.

A bonus point would be a requirement on two counts.

That would rule Benetton out of the equation in the fourth place battle and at least secure the play-off berth for Ulster.

And it would also close the gap to four points again on Edinburgh in the race to be third.

To complete the equation Ulster would then need to go to Munster and win and hope that Edinburgh got nothing out of their final hit-out against Glasgow at Murrayfield on April 28.

Incidentally, Benetton entertain fellow Italian side Zebre in their final game.

Head coach Jono Gibbes knows there is only so much his side can control given the position they had found themselves in last month as the big run-in began.

While the win over Ospreys was welcomed and backed up the bonus point victory in Edinburgh, the fact Ulster had dominated the game and did not assert that on the Welsh side was disappointing.

In terms of facing Glasgow, Gibbes said: “There are a lot of things we can do better, there are a lot of things we can be a bit more accurate on.”

At the end of the game the Ulster players unusually formed a huddle and captain Rory Best addressed them.

It may have been a reaction to the rumours circulating that day about the futures of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. While that was confirmed on Saturday morning, the players may have already known on Friday night.

Gibbes said: “I do not know I had my head in my hands so I did not actually see.

“It should be emotional because that is what happens when you put effort into things and you invest massively, not just for tonight, but the whole week.

“Everyone can feel the tension that is in the game, we need to win just to give ourselves something to play for next week.

“I think that emotion is a reflection of what they have put into it.

“ And I think it is a good thing,” he added.