Ulster won’t be sidetracked by Champions Cup permutations

Ulster coach Neil Doak insists his side will not be sidetracked by permutations ahead of their final Champions Cup pool game.

They welcome Oyonnax to the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday knowing that nothing short of a bonus-point-try win which will push them to 18 points, will put them in with a chance of securing qualification to the last eight.

If they manage that result, they will then be left clicking their heels for at least another 30 hours to see whether they will be one of the three best pool runners-up.

With Ospreys (16), Clermont (14), Northampton (14), Stade Francais (14), Toulon (16), and Wasps (15) still having a hope for the quarter-finals, it is gong to be very long interlude for Ulster.

But Doak said his men must concentrate on what they can control on the pitch rather than get caught up in calculations and other results.

“When you look at Oyonnax they have had some good results of late. Toulouse had them under serious pressure last week but didn’t have that killer punch and they fell by the wayside during the game. All Toulouse’s good work was negated by some frivolous play and that is one thing we have emphasised.

“It’s not about chasing anything, but about doing the basics right and making sure we do things in the right areas, pressurise them and be clinical in taking your opportunities. It’s about getting your priorities right, not just throwing the ball around, you have to build a platform and get some substance to get a springboard for the rest of your game.”

Darren Cave and Jared Payne are the likely midfield partners for the final Pool 1 game while Nick Williams is also fit for selection. Doubts, however, still hang over full-back Louis Ludik (foot) and Chris Henry (shoulder).

“Obviously with us being up first, it means other teams know what they have to aim for. But we always knew that would be the case, so we have to make sure we do our job first and foremost. Again, we have to rely on other results going our way. But we have to do our job to put those other teams under pressure.

“It’s good to have interest going into the final week of the competition. Obviously, the last Oyonnax game was disappointing, given we didn’t get a bonus point we had hoped for.”

Meanwhile, Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw is set for a return to action this week in Connacht’s final European Challenge Cup pool fixture.

Henshaw is back training at the Sportground in the expectation of lining out in Saturday’s Challenge Cup game against Russian visitors Enisei-STM, but he is still awaiting final clearance on his hand injury.

“He had the scan last week and the surgeon said he was not quite ready,” said Connacht coach Pat Lam, “which is the reason he didn’t go to Brive. Now it’s the second week, and again he feels pretty good with it.

“He will train all this week and prepare to play, and then we will need the final sign-off from the surgeon.”

Henshaw is expected to slot into the No 13 jersey alongside Bundee Aki, while scrum-half Kieran Marmion is also returning after a hip injury. However full-back Darragh Leader who has been beset by hand injuries, looks set to miss the remainder of the season after aggravating an old injury when playing for the Eagles on Saturday.

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