Anscombe acknowledges need for a French lesson
RUGBY: Heineken CupUlster have never won on French soil in 14 previous attempts in the Heineken Cup, though they did manage a 35-all draw away to Toulouse 12 years ago, and coach Mark Anscombe acknowledges that they may even have to do so with a bonus point away to Castres if they are to secure a home quarter-final.
As suspected a week ago, the Ulster coach was also forced to admit Dan Tuohy has lost his race against time to recover from a calf problem. With Johann Muller also sidelined for another week, and with the in-form Nick Williams having joined Stephen Ferris as well as Tommy Bowe on the sidelines, Ulster are also a little short on ballast up front.
“The injuries keep accumulating,” Anscombe noted, “but we’re pretty comfortable with what we’re going to be able to put out on Saturday. So, it’s on and upwards.”
Williams will be replaced by Roger Wilson, who will be straining at the leash. “He had 20 minutes last Friday night and I thought he played really well. He came on and added some energy . . . he’s a greatly experienced player.
Anscombe takes particular comfort in the job Robbie Diack did in calling the lineouts in the absence of both Muller and Tuohy last Friday, as well as the huge power and effectiveness of their scrum over the last month or so.
Diack, now Irish qualified, could be involved in the Wolfhounds meeting with the Saxons in Galway on Friday week, and also pending the Irish squad announcement for the Six Nations tomorrow, Anscombe said of Tom Court: “He got left out of the autumn Tests but I’ll be staggered if he’s not in the Irish squad. In the last month the job he’s done on any prop he’s come up against has been a big part of our success. He’s enjoying his rugby and he’s keeping his game simple and he’s doing what he does well, and that’s been a really crucial part of our frontrow and our scrum being so dominant in the last few weeks.”
There is no residual regrets over the failure to score a fourth try last Friday, Anscombe is not the type, but unless Ulster record a bonus point win in Castres, Saracens (a point and two tries behind Ulster in the rankings) would know exactly what was required to secure fourth place and a home quarter-final. Either way, a meeting with Mark McCall, the last coach to guide Ulster to a trophy with their league title in 2006, looks distinctly likely.
“That could be the case, but before we get caught up with trying to think about a bonus point, we’ve got to focus on a win because that’s all we can control,” said Anscombe. “Too often I’ve seen that if you start thinking outside the box then you don’t get the job done.”
Nor is he expecting Castres to roll over given they have lost only once at Stade Pierre Antoine this season. “They’re not going to make it easy for us. We’re expecting a formidable team and a team that’s not going to give anything away. If we want to get the win firstly, we’re going to have to work bloody hard and play for 80 minutes.”
Paddy Jackson and Craig Gilroy both trained yesterday and on the plus side, there had been a genuine fear that Williams would be sidelined for eight months as opposed to eight weeks. Indeed, there is every chance that Williams, Ferris and Bowe, as well as Muller and Tuohy, will be back in harness come the quarter-finals, while Jared Payne will have been able to rest his troublesome groin.