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First Home Quarter Final this Century – it’s all in the mind

by fermain on Wed Jan 15, 2014 11:00 pm
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And so, as has seemed almost inevitable since allowing Tigers to escape from Ravenhill for the first time with anything but a real hiding, we to the home of the perennial big English club.
No team has so consistently been at the top of their domestic game & lifted so many trophies as Leicester Tigers. They are the epitome of the big bully in the biggest of school-yards, the self-confessed toughest league in the world, the PRL.

No time here for the details of the row over future ERC Heineken Cups, for I could fill pages on the rights, wrongs & maybes of that dispute. We are where we are on that and most pressing is this week’s confrontation. Suffice it to say that taking out their biggest name.

Time to recap how we got here with 5 wins from 5 games, the only such record in the tournament this season.

Progress through the rounds

The fixtures saw Ulster at home in round 1 for the 8th time in 9 seasons. It’s a double-edged sword for it means that we almost always find ourselves in the crucial sixth round away from home. Leicester were the opponents and Ulster were just beginning to find some form after starting the season with 2 defeats.

Having had to do without our Lions & Irish tourists for periods, Ulster were just beginning to warm to the season with a come from behind 18-12 win at the Ospreys having been 12-0 down.
Rustiness was still evident as Tigers had the better of the opening 30 minutes despite a Tommy Bowe try. Ulster started to get into gear and eventually built a 9 point lead but the losing bonus point they got from a 76th minute penalty continues to be a source of regret.

The following week Ulster went to Montpellier and produced a performance of such resolve & class that the early season lapses were beginning to fade for the memory & hope for another exciting season rose.
The final score was 8-25 but that doesn’t tell the story. Ulster fought tooth & nail for this win. Having opened with a quite magnificent try with Cave feeding Trimble who made ground then exchanged passes with Tommy Bowe saw Ulster reach half-time with a 3-7 lead in a tight game with Ulster’s superb kicking game nullifying Montpellier. But for 3 penalty misses it could have been much better
Ulster struck again early in the 2nd half with a 3 pointer but then came a true test of character. Montpellier scored a try cutting the gap to 2 points & they turned on the pressure. At this stage an easy win would not have been on anyone’s mind however, having survived 10 minutes of heavy pressure, a last ditch tackle saved a try but as Montpellier knocked on with the line beckoning, escape came with a break that became another 3 point penalty to Ulster.

As if a switch had been flicked, Ulster suddenly took command and added a succession of penalties to run out comfortable winners with undoubtedly our best ever performance in France. There was real hope that this would be the win to build a confident campaign on.

November was unkind to Ulster, our last game before the Autumn Internationals was away to Scarlets & we didn’t turn up giving a shocking performance. The after 20 minutes of Ireland’s first game Chris Henry suffered an injury that would keep him out for nearly 2 months & as bad or worse was a broken arm for Rory Best having scored a try in the epic game against NZ, a game Ireland would obviously have won had Rory not been injured.

And so as November became December it was back to thoughts of the Heineken Cup. Having beaten both main rivals, next were the back to back games against Treviso, an opportunity to build a lead in the group.

It’s not worth dwelling on the details; Ulster won both games with TBPs and an aggregate of 83-3 over the two games and scoring 11 tries.

Welcome 2014, hello Montpellier
Whilst Ulster were shredding Treviso, Montpellier had been blown away from the start at Welford Road though twice they fought back into contention only to lose. A week later the question Ulster fans had was would they fight for pride at home against the Tigers.

Signs weren’t good when they appeared to hoist the white fleg with 13 changes from the away game but their second string fought hard, appeared to have built a winning lead but then subsided to defeat with Tigers scoring in added time for a narrow in.

So to the past weekend’s games & Montpellier arrived with a similar team to that which played Leicester at home. A facile win was expected for Ulster by some & it would appear the team may have bought into that as they struggled to a 27-16 win in very unsatisfactory manner.

In Italy Tigers trailed 16-6 at one stage but yet again got over the line with what they needed, a win & the TBP.

So to Welford Road – the prospects
The group has resolved itself into a winner takes all situation, both teams are guaranteed places in the quarters. A win for Ulster and it will be a home quarter-final and number one seeding; defeat will see us still in the competition but seeded 7th.

Most intriguingly, if we finish as top seeds it appears the likely opponents will be Sarries if they get past Connacht.

So to next Saturdays game and its obviously the big tea time game on SKY, 6pm kick off. I understand that not only have Ulster sold their allocation but many have bought tickets through the Leicester website so support will not be lacking albeit, outnumbered.

And our prospects? Well we have been the more impressive team in never really struggling in our games, no late dramas, never really looking like losing. Tigers by comparison have struggled against us, to get the TBPs against Treviso twice & with their late win in France.
On paper then, it looks good but there are other factors. In our games with Leicester, the home team has always won; their 6 point loss at Ravenhill was the closest the away team has managed.

Look then at how they have managed to do what is needed throughout the group to come through when up against it, that you could imagine will give them resolve.

What it comes down to in my opinion is this, look at the team and in most positions you will see more class in white shirts. We have been more impressive in winning all games with a bit to spare allowing just one LBP in 5 matches. The biggest question I have is will Ulster go out and play or will they be that team we have seen too many times who when the chips are down tend to freeze, the team who blew three decent opportunities to take a bonus point this week or the team capable of taking very good sides apart.

Make no mistake this game will be won with the top three inches, it’s all in the head, believe and we are the better team. There is no room for self-doubt, which is a bigger enemy than the strong Leicester pack we will face.

Leicester will be very confident on their own pitch but then they are English, of course they think it is theirs to win.

If I could I would remind the squad of the words of Mahatma Gandhi when dealing with the English, ''First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you,
then you win.''

We must expect them to presume they will win, they will be confident of it, they will seek to bludgeon us too, but if we have our heads in the right place we are simply better & will win.

:red: :fleg:



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fermain has been a member since Sat Jun 11, 2005 12:09 am. He/She has posted a total of 26 News item(s) for a total of 12290 post(s).

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Thu Jan 16, 2014 2:46 pm

Brilliant quote "If I could I would remind the squad of the words of Mahatma Gandhi when dealing with the English, ''First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.''
Loved it! SUFTU!

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