Ulster’s hopes of making the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1999 are dwindling. Currently bottom of Pool 2, the province need a win away to the Ospreys tomorrow to keep their hopes alive, but scrum half Isaac Boss reckons that result is achievable.
Ulster have won just twice in nine competitive outings this season and lose their grip on a half-time lead against Bourgoin, last time out in the Heineken Cup.
Steve Williams’ side also coughed up an early advantage when going down 24-10 to Edinburgh in the Magners League last week and coupled with some untimely injuries in the back row, it seems to be disappointment after disappointment for the men in white.
But Ireland international Isaac Boss reckons he and his team-mates can turn things around in the lead-up to Christmas, starting tomorrow by securing their second win of the season over the Ospreys – the Welshmen were 17-16 losers at Ravenhill in Ulster’s league opener in September.
Boss said: “It wouldn’t matter whether we’re playing Heineken Cup or Magners League this week, a win is important for us to take the next step up the ladder.
“We have another chance on the big stage. The Ospreys are a good team but there is pressure on them as well, they’ve had a mixed bag this season and we have always done well against them. It’s a good stadium to play in and I’m looking forward to getting over there and hopefully rectify things this week.”
In caretaker coach Williams’ second game in charge, Ulster managed to beat Connacht in Galway but the momentum from that win has failed to kickstart the team into life, with mistakes frustratingly at the heart of their recent losses.
“Against Edinburgh we created a lot of opportunities and we have to start to finish those off. It’s bad when the same mistakes keep reoccurring so we have to show to ourselves and to everyone else that we are on the right track by eliminating those mistakes and I’m sure can get start to play some very good rugby,” Boss insisted.
Ulster worryingly face into the festive period without a recognised number 8 as both Stephen Ferris (knee) and now Roger Wilson, who fractured his thumb against Edinburgh, are expected to be out of action until mid February.
Williams could opt to move the Ireland Under-20s’ Grand Slam-winning captain David Pollock to the base of Ulster’s scrum, where he took over from the injured Wilson against Edinburgh, or reposition lock-cum-flanker Matt McCullough, who played at number 8 during his schooldays. Ballymena’s Chris Henry could also come into the equation.
With the Ospreys fielding back rowers of the calibre of Jonathan Thomas, Marty Holah and Filo Tiatia, Boss said: “The back row is always a key area of the game and every decent side has a powerful one. With Roger being out and Stephen compounding that, it’s tough for us but at the same time whoever steps in at number 8 it’s a big opportunity for them to shine.”
Williams agreed: “We have got guys like Matt (McCullough) who have played there a few times and obviously Davy (Pollock) did a good job when he moved there during the match last Friday.
“It is not ideal but that is the situation we are in at the minute. We have looked at bringing someone in but it’s not that simple at this moment in time finding people of the right calibre who are available.
“We will just have to wait to see if anything does crop up or just dig in and get on with it. We are allowed to bring one more player into the squad (for the Heineken Cup pool games) and a prop has been an issue.
“We are still a little bit light in that area. But it is a decision we will have to make.”
Meanwhile, young lock Ryan Caldwell will be available for selection for tomorrow’s game in Swansea. There had been fears that the Ireland ‘A’ international might miss the game after he was cited for allegedly striking an opponent during an Ulster Senior League match between Dungannon and Belfast Harlequins on November 24.
However, an Ulster Branch Disciplinary Committee ruled that the incident was “accidental” and would not have warranted a red card, meaning Caldwell is free to take his place in Ulster’s matchday squad, if selected.