Ulster on recovery mission against Bath in European Champions Cup opener

Province hoping to build on last-gasp victory over Edinburgh at weekend

After two straight defeats, the optics are not looking great for Ulster in terms of avoiding another reverse as they head to in-form Bath for their European Champions Cup opener on Saturday.

Not ideal either that they have been winning games — it’s four from seven in the URC — with little enough to spare and that it’s 12 months ago since the wheels began wobbling badly at the northern province, the heavy loss at Leinster in early December 2022 beginning a run of six unwanted outcomes from seven outings.

Indeed, to add another layer of alarm regarding how things are panning out on Dan McFarland’s watch, but for James Hume’s last-gasp score last Saturday to collect two points from the 27-24 Edinburgh defeat at the Kingspan Stadium, Ulster would now find themselves situated outside the top eight in the URC table.

So, plenty to address this week as they ready themselves for the trip to the Rec which, if that wasn’t challenging enough, will be followed seven days later by hosting Top 14 table-toppers Racing 92.


In terms of finding much that is upbeat, Ulster are thought to potentially have skipper Iain Henderson back from his hip issue which kept him out of last weekend, and that Rob Herring will also be involved after recovering from a calf problem.

The northern province, even with Steven Kitshoff starting against Edinburgh, will have to shore up their scrum ahead of taking on Bath and the breakdown requires some attention too after Jamie Ritchie eviscerated them in this key area.

“There’s a lot that goes into a breakdown, tactics, technique or individual responsibility,” said assistant coach Roddy Grant whose areas cover the breakdown and lineout maul.

“You hope everything is on and we were off in that area [against Edinburgh] and Jamie Ritchie did well.

“That was a big area of focus for us in [this week’s] review, a lot of it was individual errors, whether it was ball carriers getting sloppy with ball placement, or support guys cleaning slightly slow in or [being] off our feet and [then] Jamie Ritchie would come over the top.”

Grant also pointed out that a huge improvement would have to be made to avoid the same thing happening at the Rec.

“Sam Underhill attacks the breakdown hard, so we’ve got to focus on that.

“We’ve challenged the guys for a reaction [here] because that was a big area of the game [with Edinburgh] and we’re going to get it again this week.

“I’m confident we will have a reaction both in the individual focus and fight in those collision areas. Urgency certainly heightens that.

“It’s another big challenge but [we’re] confident the guys will give a reaction,” Grant said.