Ulster may have slipped out of the play-off places in the GUINNESS PRO12 following Saturday’s defeat to Leinster, but head coach Neil Doak believes that his side, who are one point behind Leinster and just five points off the top, still have every chance of qualifying for the knockout stages come May.
“It’s going to be tight in the play-offs,” admitted Ulster boss Neil Doak, “but if we take the opportunities that we create I’ve no doubt we can get into the top four.”
One of the deciding moments in Saturday’s 24-11 interprovincial derby loss to Leinster in Dublin was the quick thinking of Ian Madigan whose tap and go resulted in a try.
Doak admitted: “We just fell asleep. When you play against Leinster you have to make sure that you are on the money all the time. Unfortunately, we just fell asleep. Its something that we talked about this week – being ready. Ian took his chance and got his rewards. We have to learn from that.”
With just one away win so far this season the coaches know that improving Ulster’s performances on the road will be key to sustaining a title challenge. Doak says that form needs to improve, starting this weekend against Benetton Treviso.
“All away games are tough games. You aim to try and get as many points away from home as possible and to try and nick the odd win to keep the points ticking over,” he explained.
“We have a few battered bodies and resources are a bit stretched at the moment. It has been tough going over the past month or so but to be fair to the guys they have dug in and it has been getting better. We just have to keep building and make sure that when we get opportunities we finish them off.”
This Sunday’s trip to Treviso is the first of a double header against the Italian side with the small matter of the European Champions Cup games against Toulon and Leicester Tigers in between.
In previous seasons you could be forgiven for not attaching huge importance to a PRO12 clash when matches against the biggest team in England and the two-time European champions are coming up, but that is not the case this year. For Ulster forward coach Allen Clarke, Treviso is, in a sense, the biggest game of the season so far.
“It is because it’s our next match. It is going to be the game that makes sure that we remain within touching distance,” insisted Clarke.
“When you look at the other fixtures you would expect the top sides to all get wins. However, nothing is certain in this league. Look at Edinburgh beating Glasgow. Not many people would have expected that.
“Over the Christmas period, all the top sides won one and lost one. It is critical that over this next period of games that we are accruing victories when those other teams are playing each other.”
If Ulster do that, then Clarke believes the province has every chance of being in the mix for the play-off places and for the PRO12 title itself.
“I think our destiny is very much in our own hands. We are determined that at the back-end of the season, when a lot of our senior, quality players are back, that we will be competing for the PRO12 Championship.”