GOING INTO HIS second Heineken Cup campaign as Ulster Coach, Mark Anscombe believes the province have two choices as to how they’ll go about their business this season.
“I think we’re stronger [this year], we should be for the simple fact of that experience we’ve had from the disappointments or successes we’ve had.
“The thing we can’t do, and this is the key for me: when things don’t go your way there’s two ways you can go about it. You can feel sorry yourself and feel hard done by and look at refereeing and all that. Or, you can say what do we learn from that and how does it makes us better and I like to think we’ve taken that approach.
“We’re not blaming anyone; we’ve got to be accountable for our performances. We’ve got to be stronger and more disciplined about what we have to do and be able to dissect a team and go about winning a game of rugby.
“If we do that, we know we’ve got a good squad that is able to challenge most squads in the competition.”
Of more pressing concern for the New Zealander is the visit to Ravenhill of Leicester Tigers. But does the 55-year old believe his side have what it takes to beat the defending Premiership champions?
“Most definitely, that’s why we’ve got to believe in ourselves to be able to do that. We love playing at home and have great supporters – they’re pretty passionate and they get behind their team. We’ve got to use all that because we’re playing against a formidable team.
“What have they got? Five or six Lions in their team and they won the Premiership last year. It doesn’t get any tougher than that, but that’s what you want in the Heineken Cup, you expect to play the best teams.
“We know we’ll have to be on top of our game and pull one out of the bag to get a result.”
Anscombe definitely comes across as a glass-half-full type of coach and he doesn’t think that last year’s quarter final loss to Saracens was a disappointment after reaching the final the previous year.
“You’ve got to put things in perspective. We achieved a lot last year. We didn’t win any silverware, there wasn’t any the year before either, but we had our first win in France, we qualified for the Pro12 final… the fact is, the last time Ulster won the Rabo was in ’06 and that was through round robin [league format], so we equalled that.
“We developed three or four players who can go on to play for Ireland, so we’re developing the depth in our squad and players coming through. I think there’s a lot to look back on the year and say we achieved quite a bit.”
And what does he think about the other teams in the group?
“You’ve just got to look at [Montpellier's] performances and some of the players they’ve got on the park there. They’ve got some quality players on that team and have a really exciting one coming, Rene Ranger. I’ve looked at it and I think his last game back in New Zealand [ITM Cup] is the day we play them, so he won’t be there for that first round. That’s a blessing because he’s one hell of a player, but also because they’ve got some really sharp players there.
“You just look at their results – okay we beat them at home at the weekend – you don’t go there and get an easy game, I’ll tell you what. They will have a win in this Heineken Cup I’ll tell you that.”
Image: INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry
Anscombe also knows that, if Ulster are to challenge for this year’s Heineken Cup, it will take several elements to come together at once.
“We know that, as a group, if we have a bit of luck – and when I say luck I mean keeping everyone fit and available – on our day we can compete with anyone. It needs a bit of that, it’s a long season and it just takes one or two key injuries, a bounce of a ball.
“Hard work also brings a bit of work and we’ve just got to keep honest to ourselves and keep challenging ourselves to be the best we are, not looking for excuses, if we can keep the little things in check we believe we can compete in this competition.
“That’s what it’s about week in week out; building momentum, building confidence and expressing ourselves when we get out on that park.”
Additional reporting by Murray Kinsella.