Guinness PRO12: Ulster must take opportunities against Glasgow
Head coach Neil Doak wants an 80-minute performance from his players as they look to reach a home final in Belfast
Neil Doak insists that Ulster cannot afford to waste chances when they face Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium for the second time in six days on Friday.
After a weakened side capitulated to a 32-10 defeat last Saturday, head coach Doak will return his star names to Ulster’s starting XV with the sizable carrot of a home Guinness PRO12 final awaiting them if they can secure their first league win in the west of Scotland since March 2011.
This season we’ve played them at home and played them away and it’s one game all. It’s knock-out rugby now and, on the day, you’ve got to make sure you take your chances.
It would be an impressive feat should the Irish province reach the final at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday 30 May. No PRO12 club has won away from home since the play-offs were introduced in 2010, and the Warriors have not lost a league match at Scotstoun Stadium since November 2013.
Since South African scrum-half Ruan Pienaar landed a last-minute penalty to win 22-19 at Firhill Stadium four years ago, Ulster have been victorious in Glasgow just once in their last four visits, albeit when the two clubs met in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup back in October 2012.
And Doak, who is in his first season in charge of the club, admits there is a quiet confidence in his squad that they can record a historic victory.
“Obviously we would have loved to have the game in Belfast for a home semi, but it wasn’t to be and we’re on the road to Glasgow,” Doak told Ulster Rugby TV.
“We’ve got a short week and a short turnaround. We’ve got a few bodies on board and we’re ready to go come Friday night.
“This season we’ve played them at home and played them away and it’s one game all.
“It’s knock-out rugby now and, on the day, you’ve got to make sure you take your chances.”
Ulster won’t want to dwell too much on last week’s short hop to Glasgow after they failed to make the most of the wind at their backs in the first half and saw their defensive structures crumble as the Warriors produce a stunning surge in the second half to run in four tries.
We’ve got to work hard for 80 minutes. We can’t be reasonably competitive for 55-60 minutes and take our foot off the gas.
The overwhelming message out of Belfast this week has been that Ulster need to improve their accuracy and produce an 80-minute performance if they are to reach a dream PRO12 final on their home patch with many of the 18,500 tickets already snapped up by snapped up by expectant Ulster fans.
And Doak knows that they can’t afford to waste what few opportunities they get with the Warriors’ potent attack able to rack up points quickly and ruthlessly, as they found out to their cost last week.
“If you look back at the last 15 minutes of the game, if you stand off Glasgow they can score points pretty quickly,” Doak added.
“They’re a quality side and can cause a bit of damage whenever you don’t do simple things well or work hard. That’s the key aspect we’ve looked at this week.
“We’ve got to work hard for 80 minutes. We can’t be reasonably competitive for 55-60 minutes and take our foot off the gas, because – against the big sides – if they wear you down and get those small opportunities at the back end of the game; you saw what happened at the weekend -Glasgow take those opportunities.
“They’ve just got to make sure they take every opportunity. It’s a big game for a lot of guys.
“It’s an opportunity to win a semi-final and get a home final at the Kingspan Stadium.
“We’ve just got to try and make sure we’re accurate. I think that was the disappointing thing last week. In the first 20 minutes, we didn’t use the conditions well. We didn’t hold on to the ball, we didn’t exert enough pressure on Glasgow.
“Yeah, we went in 10-6 up, but ideally if we’d got 17-6 or maybe 20-6 that would have been just rewards for us.
“We had some great opportunities. We dropped the ball just over the line and there were a couple of other chances that we just didn’t capitalise on.
“That’s the disappointing thing because against the big sides you get a couple of chances and you’ve got to make sure you take them because if you don’t they’re going to have those chances and if they do capitalise you’re chasing the game.”
Doak concedes that the Warriors have the added advantage of playing at home, and it should be another emotionally charged night in Glasgow’s west end if club captain Al Kellock gets a final run out before his retirement this summer.
We’ll have some great support, like we’ve always had this season, and the boys are looking forward to it – it’s going to be a great game.
With the enlarged temporary stands behind the posts still in place from the Glasgow Sevens event earlier this month, the Warriors expect to reach the 10,000 capacity for just a third time following last week’s game against Ulster and last season’s home semi-final when they edged out Munster 16-15 to reach their first PRO12 final.
The Irish province go into the match as slight underdogs, given the Warriors’ superb home form, but the Ulster boss will likely have half-backs Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar, wingers Tommy Bowe and Craig Gilroy, centres Jared Payne, Darren Cave and captain Rory Best among the players back in the starting XV, who are familiar with big-game demands and playing in front of hostile crowds, while hooker Rob Herring, who was cited for an alleged stamping after last week’s contest, was cleared at a disciplinary hearing in Cardiff.
“We’ve got some players who’ve played some big games away from Belfast in pretty hostile conditions and Glasgow will have a decent crowd like they had on Saturday,” he added.
“We’ll have some great support, like we’ve always had this season, and the boys are looking forward to it – it’s going to be a great game.”