The pressure is firmly on Ulster to win at Edinburgh

Ulster’s qualification for next season’s Champions Cup also in jeopardy should they fail to arrest their run of league defeats

It’s fair to say that the current situation is one that few both in and around the Kingspan were anticipating a month ago.

Instead, after putting together an impressive run of results, quite a rap sheet has been assembled. Four defeats from their last five games, including back-to-back reversals at home and, most worryingly, three consecutive losses in the URC. This is not what Ulster are supposed to be about.

A gruelling two-game trip to South Africa, with one losing bonus point acquired though a wrong call by the officials robbed them of what would have been a win against the Stormers -–a decision which looks even more damaging now – and then that one-point aggregate European departure at the hands of Toulouse – and this after beating them over in France – all appeared to have exacted a heavy toll last weekend.

Indeed, Ulster were so flat when being turned over at home by Munster that it was hard not to wonder at what damage had previously been inflicted upon them through essentially blowing the chance of copper-fastening what had already seemed theirs to claim: namely a home European quarter-final from the last 16 meetings with Toulouse.

They did collect a losing bonus against Johann van Graan’s re-energised squad, but the overall outcome from last weekend saw Ulster slip from second to fifth in the league table.

As things now stand it means that Dan McFarland’s squad would not only be playing their last-eight clash away from the Kingspan but would have to board a long-haul flight to meet the Sharks.

Though a lot can still change as just four points separate the Bulls, who are in the final play-off position in eighth, from second-placed Stormers, the pressure is firmly on Ulster to win at Edinburgh – the Scots are seventh and two points off the northern province – to not only bounce back but, crucially, do all they can to elbow their way back into the top four with just the Sharks to host after this weekend.

Not only that, but Ulster’s qualification for next season’s Champions Cup is also in jeopardy should they fail to arrest their run of league defeats.

Own hands

"Destiny is in our own hands," said Ulster skills coach Craig Newby. "We've got two games where we can control our performance and we're working extremely hard to do that."

Ulster may have to take on Edinburgh without skipper Iain Henderson and prop Marty Moore as both left the field last Friday for HIAs and failed to return. Both, according to Newby, are going through the usual return-to-play protocols.

Newby added: “This is a club that is built on working hard and squeezing every drop and regards the (recent) results, the guys have come in with good energy to fix those.

“We’re actually playing good rugby against very good sides, we’re just not playing good enough rugby against those sides, and we will try and bridge that gap.”

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