Ulster in good mood to face Saracens

Victory over Leinster last weekend vital for confidence says coach Anscombe

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe: “We needed a performance as much as we needed a result.”

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe: “We needed a performance as much as we needed a result.”


Coach Mark Anscombe has not allowed the stately backdrop of Ulster’s Lough Erne resort to temper any views he feels are required to defend his team this week. The Kiwi yesterday snapped down Leinster coach Joe Schmidt’s assertion that the refereeing of George Clancy in their RDS match last weekend was frustrating and inconsistent.

Anscombe believes Ulster won the match because they put in a badly needed performance ahead of their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens in Twickenham at the weekend.

In terms of the refereeing decisions made in the scrum and at the breakdown, Schmidt referred to the previous PRO12 match between the two teams in Belfast last December, where, he said, Leinster was also penalised in the first scrum and conceded a penalty try.

“The fact is it was a hard game and we won it. We scored two tries to none and we needed that. We needed a performance as much as we needed a result to get confidence back. All the obvious things, the internationals, the injuries, the depth of the squad . . .we needed the performance to say that we aren’t that bad.”

His good fortune is that no Ulster players left Dublin with serious injury that should prevent them from stepping out again in London against the Premiership form team.

Anscombe also expects his All Black prop John Afoa to be at Ulster training on Thursday. Afoa,who also returned home to New Zealand at the beginning of this year, travelled back for a second time to his be with his wife, who was having their third child.

Despite the long-distance travelling Afoa has endured, the coach believes the experience and diligence of the World Cup winner will see him through against Saracens.

“He’ll be at training on Thursday,” said Anscombe without hesitation. “Look it’s not ideal. I’d be kidding if I said it was. But John is as professional a rugby player that there is going. He looks after himself. He knows his body. He’s played a lot of rugby.

“He’s been around a long time and he’s confident . . . He’s talking about the excitement of this Saturday so he’s up for it. He’s a big match player. He’s important for us and there’s no question he’ll be up for it come Saturday.

Family man
Are Ulster indulging one of their star players who plays in a pivotal position? Or simply permitting a family man to do the right thing. Afoa has done it before and knows what to expect. “There’s not a lot of people you would trust to do what he’s done,” explained Anscombe. “But he’s one man I do trust to do it.”

The reward for beating Saracens, which is a semi-final in Dublin, are substantial and Anscombe was inclined to talk up the strengths of his reborn Ulster squad. His mind was on the players who have come back from injury and Ireland, not any publicl’ aired frailties.

Paddy Jackson, the 21-year-old outhalf, has probably had to endure more personal criticism than most players of his age in their debut year as an international. Anscombe sees it as a little hysterical.

“It is an overreaction,” the coach said. “You have to look at the circumstances and the bigger picture . . . Whatever they may say, players do read things. A lot say ‘Nah, I don't read that rubbish’ but they do and some can handle it and some can’t. It is a matter of how they respond to that.”