“We are going into a very noisy stadium, a real cauldron, and we have to be ready for the welcome we’ll undoubtedly get, but we are looking forward to the return game, and go to France determined to get the win we need to keep our quarter-final hopes alive.”
Ulster head coach Neil Doak was yesterday emphasising just how much attitude, being ready for the very particular challenges of the trip to Clermont Auvergne, is key to Sunday’s Champions Cup tie at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
“Last Saturday was a treat for the fans, two fine teams being clinical, playing at pace and with a physicality and intensity which was at a different level to our normal schedule.
“We have seasoned internationals in our dressing room, and people like Rory Best were saying that the match was as close to Test level as it gets.
“We all know that Europe is special, and there is a very different edge to games, and you saw that at the weekend here at Kingspan.
“We had prepared really well, and they too had worked hard on us, but it wasn’t negative, it allowed the sides to express themselves and, from my point of view, we did a great job, five super tries, well-worked, brilliantly taken,” said Doak.
That his side led 39-18 with 20 minutes remaining and faced a Clermont whirlwind as the Top 14 leaders came back to 39-32 to claim a losing bonus point and try bonus point had its positives.
“Obviously we let them back into it, a few slipped tackles, a few penalties we’d have preferred not to concede, but when we had to protect the winning position and five priceless points the boys did an exceptional job, even when down to 14 men.
“The side showed not just how good it is but the character we know it has. It was a happy dressing room, but all thoughts turned immediately to Sunday’s return game, and there were a few tired bodies which showed the intensity of the physical exchanges.”
Doak doesn’t anticipate major changes in the match day 23 for the journey to the Alps, though he may bring a few spare bodies in the travelling party given that there’s an extra day’s recovery time.
“Franco van der Merwe is back in the frame, he trained fully and he’ll be a big bonus in the second row, Roger Wilson probably needs another week before we can think about him coming into the pack, and Robbie Diack suffered an impact injury on Saturday but he’s fine and should travel.”
Doak had hoped international three-quarters Andrew Trimble and Stuart Olding would be available for selection but believes the PRO12 game with Connacht on Friday week is a likelier target for both.
“Look, at the moment I don’t see many changes to the squad, but we do have a couple of more days to assess people and that might change, but we won’t be taking risks,” said Doak.
“We are going to have to bring the same pace, intensity and physicality to the game on Sunday, and we can’t allow Clermont to get a foothold in the match. Chasing down Clermont isn’t what we need, so we need to be precise, play at pace, make good decisions and make sure that while we concentrate on our game we are aware of what Wesley Fofana, Nick Abendanon, Morgan Parra and the rest of the star players can do if we don’t do our jobs.
“What would I take from Sunday’s game? Being realistic I suppose two points — a try bonus and a losing bonus point — would keep us in the running for the final Pool 5 games in the new year. But we do believe, and we offered the evidence on Saturday here in Belfast, that we can win, and that’s the target.
“We’ve made a few tweaks, worked on the things which didn’t go so well, and the boys are really up for this, we’re confident, with reason.”
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