Court aiming to charge into last eight with a win

DON the thinking cap, dig out the calculators: it’s round six of the Heineken Cup.

Thankfully, from an Irish perspective, the situation is mostly cut and dried. Ignore the fine print ahead of the weekend’s fixtures and the bottom line remains that Leinster, Munster and Ulster must all target victories to attain their goals.

Connacht, alas, have long since been cut adrift.

With Leinster and Munster already assured of their safe passage to the last eight, their focus is on securing a home tie. Ulster’s task is far more convoluted but Tom Court isn’t interested in the long list of possible permutations.

For him, it’s win or bust.

“If you start thinking about losing bonus points then you’re already way off the mark,” said the prop ahead of their visit to Clermont. “You need to be going over there aiming for the win. If you’re trying to work out ifs and buts already then you’ve already lost.”

Thing is, Ulster may yet trot out at the Stade Marcel Michelin on Saturday with their ticket for April’s business already in hand if Connacht were to fell Harlequins at the Sportsground or Gloucester take care of Toulouse at Kingsholm.

Both of those will take place tonight.

Unfortunately, neither scenario appears likely and a deeper peek down the rabbit hole reveals that Ulster may yet find themselves analysing the amount of tries scored in Galway and maybe even events in Cardiff and Edinburgh, respectively, come Sunday.

Or they could make all that irrelevant.

Claim a win in the Massif Central – or come away with a draw — and all other considerations would fade away. Easier said than done, of course, but last Friday’s evisceration of Leicester lends itself to considerable hope and some expectation.

The question now is whether Ulster can regain such heights away from their home fortress and in a country where they have yet to taste success but the players believe they can match that performance, or even surpass it.

“From the outside I’m sure the Ulster fans and everyone would see it as one of those performances where everything went right,” said Court, “but if you sit and go through it with a fine tooth comb there’s still a hell of a lot of things that could be worked on and tweaked.

“There were a few moves which were fairly scrappy, we lost a few lineouts, one of their mauls got a bit of steam up.

“There’s a lot of things to work on and that’s the most promising thing from our point of view. It wasn’t one of those perfect nights when everything went right.”

Ulster aren’t the only side to come over all Jekyll and Hyde at home and away, of course. Clermont’s fortunes are even more black and white. So often mediocre and tentative on the road, they have become nigh on impregnable ‘á la maison’.

“When away they try to play territory and just tick away at the scoreboard. There’s a lot more penalties and drop-goals. When they’re at home they run it from deep and do things they wouldn’t normally do when away from home.

“That’s why they’re a lot more dangerous,” said Court who came out second best on previous trips to Biarritz and Stade Francais (twice) in recent years.

“They’re a lot more confident and they just back themselves when they’re at home.”

There’s a flip side to that, of course. Frustrate your French hosts for long enough and the fans can turn on their own like cats on mice although no-one has managed to ignite such internecine conflict at the Stade Marcel Michelin in the last 38 attempts.

“That’s one thing about the Ravenhill fans, they’ll stick with you come rail, hail or shine.

When you’re away, especially in France, the crowd are heavily against you at the start but if things start going your way and the home team aren’t doing the job they’re supposed to be, then I guess it can swing.

“But it’s one of those places where we’re going to have to create our own atmosphere on the pitch.

“I’m sure we’ll have a good travelling support but it’s up to the 15 players on the pitch to get themselves psyched up and get in the right place in their heads to make sure it happens on the pitch.”

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