Last Friday’s bonus point win over the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium was a great start to Ulster’s GUINNESS PRO12 campaign, but the focus of the province’s management team quickly turned to the Scarlets and the challenge of this week’s trip to west Wales.
“I think it’s important that we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” said Ulster assistant coach Allen Clarke. “We had a good win on Friday against the Ospreys, but our focus is to build on that performance by doing the things that we did well and ensuring we improve in some areas where we know we can be better.
“Scarlets offer another tough challenge, particularly as it’s their first game at home coming of the back of an impressive win at Glasgow. However, it’s important we focus on ourselves and keep growing as a group and acquiring league points at this stage in the season to be in a good position to strike for a home play-off come May.”
Continuity is difficult in a Rugby World Cup year, however Clarke believes that the disruption of having players away offers an opportunity for youngsters to come through and to make their mark.
“This phase of the season, when we are without our Ireland internationals due to the World Cup, provides a fantastic opportunity for other squad members to compete for matchday positions. The younger players also benefit from greater exposure, the likes of Jacob Stockdale, Sam Arnold and John Andrew. They are living the life of a professional rugby player.
“The hard work, the discipline that is required to be truly successful, the reduction in time that you have on the field, the physicality of the game, the importance of being effective in all your actions – the demands and importance of being accurate are much greater. Everybody has to step up to the plate – it’s a professional game and success is ultimately measured by results.”
The Emerging Ireland coach added: “Many of the young players have said that they are learning a lot from the likes of Wiehahn Herbst, Franco van der Merwe, Nick Williams, Ian Humphreys, Roger Wilson, Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall. They currently are the starters that the young players are trying to emulate or even surpass.”
As an assistant coach with Ulster, Clarke’s particular focus is on the forwards and the set piece. He says that competition for places is helping drive the standard in the team right across the board.
“You look at Pete Browne, Alan O’Connor and Lewis Stevenson – they are vying for starting positions,” he stated. “The strength of Ulster Rugby is that we are not just a team of 15 players, we need two or three players pushing for each position. You can’t rely on a strong 15, you need to be growing that to 30, 35, so players can come in and own their time in the jersey and ensure that we get the performances and wins.
“The new players to the squad have really added value – Sam Windsor, Peter Browne, Paul Rowley…Willie Faloon has come back and looked really fresh. As coaches it is important we fuel the motivation of all the players to improve in the positional and collective aspects of the game, continually growing the depth of the squad and consequently the competition for places.”