European Champions Cup Pool 3
Leicester Tigers v Ulster
Saturday: Welford Road, 7.45pm
It’s fortunate for Ulster their new head coach has been around the block a few times and knows what is ahead of the side when they travel to Welford Road for their Champions Cup Pool 3 opener against Leicester Tigers on Saturday.
Neil Doak, who played 76 times for Ulster before going into coaching nine years ago, knows all too well what lies ahead in Europe, particularly travelling to a Midlands stronghold.
“I’ve been involved the last number of years in European games and, obviously, having beating Leicester at home and away last year, we are looking forward to that big challenge at Welford Road,” said the 47-year-old former scrum-half. “We know what to expect, there is amazing excitement about this fixture and all European games,” said Doak, who has the squad in a good place as he didn’t see any difference in the training intensity from last week’s big date with Glasgow in the Pro12.
“Last week was a huge week training wise as we had aligned it that we had three big ‘European’ games on the bounce and we looked at the data on what both Glasgow and Leicester brought to the game and their intensity. So we knew last week what our physicality and commitment was gong to have to be to win these big games and that certainly showed in abundance last Saturday against the Warriors,” explained Doak.
He knows however, Ulster must take another big leap forward to come out on top on Saturday. “There is no doubt you have to take another step forward. There is no point in pulling one big game out of the bag, bringing that level of intensity and then not doing exactly the same this week. It has to be the same plus 10-fold more intensity. Welford Road is not an easy place to go, everyone knows that.
“We experienced it last year and the guys came off that pitch shattered at the end of a tremendous game. We now have to make sure we are fresh enough to match that physicality they and European rugby portrays,” said Doak who, while missing injured playmaker Ruan Pienaar who masterminded the victory last season, is happy what Paul Marshall is doing at present.
“He has had a good consistent run this season so far, but while Ruan is a quality player and what he brings to the table, Paul provides something different. Paul is experienced with over 100 caps and knows he can do a bit of damage around the fringes like his opposite number Ben Youngs.
“Like Glasgow, Leicester are very physical. You just have to look at All Black Brad Thorn, at 39, playing against Harlequins last week to see just how physical they are going to be.
“It is going to be a phenomenal battle up front and obviously whoever gets that little edge will win the game.”
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