Defence coach Jonathan Bell says alarm bells not ringing in Ulster yet
Craig Gilroy may make return against Connacht in Galway
Darren Cave and Ulster assistant coach Jonny Bell (right) at Ulster training. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho
Ulster seemingly prefer to do things in extremis. In stark contrast to last season, when the Mark Anscombe era kicked off with their best start to a League campaign – 11 straight wins in the first half of the Rabo Pro12 – Ulster head to Connacht on Saturday seeking to avoid a third straight loss, which would equal their worst ever start of five seasons ago.
In truth, what this perhaps highlights more than anything is how tight the margins can be. In last season’s winning start, Ulster had a couple of one-point wins, and victories by two and three points, whereas over the last two weekends they have contrived to lose eminently winnable games away to the Dragons and, especially, at home to Glasgow when spilling three gilt-edged try-scoring chances in a game they dominated for all but the first and last five minutes.
Defence/assistant coach Jonathan Bell readily admits that losing last Friday, all the more so in Ravenhill, was acutely more disappointing, even if there were more positives in their display.
“The performance against the Dragons disappointed us more than anything. We didn’t really create a lot and we lacked a little bit of composure, but against Glasgow after a furious first five or ten minutes, and for the next 70 minutes we controlled the game and created enough opportunities against what one of the top defensive sides in the league, to be 20 points up.”
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t take those opportunities, but those are those margins we live and work in against the best sides. You’re lucky if you get one, never mind three, and it was a game that we contrived a defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Far from denting confidence though, Ulster draw comfort from what Bell describes as “a massive step forward” against Glasgow “because we were a different animal, and if we create chances like that and take chances like that we’ll be up there come the end of the season.”
Whereas some Ulster supporters might fear a case of second season syndrome, there’s no panic in the camp. “Not in the slightest. It’s far too early in the season, and I know that’s clichéd and it’s easy to say that,” said Bell, who cited Joe Schmidt coming into the changing-room afterwards and reminding them that Leinster lost three of their first four under his command in 2010-11. They also lost two of their first three two seasons ago, yet went on to finish second and first in reaching both grand Finals.