Wounded beast a big worry for Anscombe
History has shown us that when heavyweight contenders bump into each other in the pivotal back-to-back rounds in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup, it is notoriously difficult to complete a double whammy, even sometimes when winning away first. In part, this is because of the risk of complacency for the first-up winners, but it also affords beaten teams an almost unique opportunity to tap immediately into a vengeful mood.
Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe is acutely aware both of Northampton’s wounded desire for redemption as well as revenge, as well as the danger his own team might even be slightly overly satisfied with themselves after their ultra-clinical 25-6, four tries to nil win in Franklin’s Gardens.
“Oh most definitely, because that’s a common trend with most teams around the place. I’m still working with these guys and over the couple of months we’ve been together there are things we keep still finding out about each other.
“We’ve certainly addressed it, and talked about it, and hopefully we’ve said the right things or asked each other the right questions that we don’t get complacent, because it is a disease that happens to every team at some stage. You get ahead of yourself and that can very much happen if we don’t have our feet on the ground and be as hungry in ourselves, in what we set out to do, as we were last Friday.”
All over the world, in all manner of competitions, teams have great days, but not all of them back them up a week later, said Anscombe, but they happen “because of what they do the week before and the week after, and this will be a good indication to us as to where we’re at because as the season progresses you have to do things weekly, not occasionally”.
This they have been doing thus far, as evidenced by the only unbeaten frontline record in Europe, but Anscombe probably won’t have been thrilled to see yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph hail his team as “unbeatable” and “unstoppable”, so asking on its front, back and inside back pages: “are they the best (Ulster team) ever?”
To this somewhat premature question, Willie Anderson perhaps struck the most realistic note when observing that “the big tests still lie ahead”, while former coach Davy Haslett reckoned it was “nonsense” to realistically compare teams or players from different periods.
Such a question would be grist to Northampton’s mill too. Word has it the Franklin’s Gardens home dressingroom was replete with angry self-recrimination after last Friday night’s game and Ulster know the Saints will be smarting as well as embarking upon a win-or-bust mission.