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'We have to be expecting to win big games': Clermont a formidable foe in season-defining weeks for Ulster

Tommy Bowe looks ahead to the formidable challenge of facing Clermont in their own backyard.

WHAT STARTED OUT as a season beaming with brightness has turned to something much more murky and scrappy for Ulster.

Following five straight wins to open the campaign, Les Kiss took his side to Connacht to meet the slow-starting champions. The 80 minutes that followed bordered on classic match levels with better drama and entertainment on show than anyone has a right to expect so early in the season.

The 30 – 25 defeat though was to put the province in a tailspin that brought four defeats in the following five matches. It would have been even worse had Paddy Jackson not dropped a late goal to sneak a win against Exeter Chiefs.

Saturday’s win over Cardiff Blues has at least put a gloss on the formbook as they head back into Europe. But there’s no sugar-coating the task that awaits them over the next two weekends.

Clermont Auvergne — in form and sitting pretty at the summit of the Top14.

There are easier games to set about rescuing your season in, but perhaps the size of the task will provide a shock to the Ulster system, force the very best from them and put them at a pitch to compete for those long sought-after trophies.

Tommy Bowe Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“You’ll always be able to get up for a game against Clermont,” says Tommy Bowe when he launched the Coca-Cola designated driver campaign.

“But for the European competition as well, it’s just that step-up in performance that a team needs. We have a squad that we feel can take on the best teams in the league and Europe. So it’s a huge challenge for us.”

When Clermont come calling next Saturday, Ulster will of course have to dismantle them without two of their key international backs after the IRFU medics ruled Jared Payne and Andrew Trimble injured following their first-half withdrawal from the win over Australia though.

If there is one area that Ulster have strength in depth however, it’s the back three. And with Bowe feeling he is almost back to his best, there is undoubtedly still quality for Kiss to work with to ease the growing pressure.

Tommy Bowe Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“When you lose four games out of five, there’s always going to be pressure with that. Especially with the facilities, players and the huge fan base that we have, we have to be expected to win big games.

With that is going to come pressure on Les, but as a team we feel confident. We’ve trained well in the couple of weeks off and, not that we owe anything to Les, I don’t think he’d be expecting that, but we owe our supporters a good performance.”

“Les has come in and added so much, so it’s a case of us stepping up to that level. If you really feel you’re going got be serious contenders you have to be able to show it against teams like Clermont.

“Playing them back-to-back is not going to be an easy feat, but one I think the squad will be gearing up nicely for.”

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Sean Farrell

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