ULSTER SEALED QUALIFICATION for their fourth successive Heineken Cup quarter-final within hours of Friday night’s Pool 5 win over Montpellier.
That they did not manage to do it under their own steam is a source of frustration, but if the lack of a bonus point does anything in the lead-up to Saturday’s Pool decider against Leicester in Welford Road, it will simplify the equation.
Ulster Rugby as an organisation would dearly love to host a quarter-final. They have travelled at that stage for the past three years and promise that, if home advantage is secured, the grey mass of concrete and scaffolding that currently consumes the back-drop of television coverage will be converted into space for thousands more red-and-white clad fans.
Despite their run of seven consecutive Pool victories, all of that hope now hangs on their performance at Welford Road in round six.
John Afoa and Tom Court have yet to start their experiences in England, so no doubt many faces this week will instead turn to Roger Wilson for the odd pointer.
“I’ve played against them a fair few times over there,” Wilson told TheScore.ie last week. The number eight soon added that getting to know individual Tigers was not so easy; his fellow ex Northampton Saint Ryan Lamb is the only face he might pick out for a post-match word.
“Playing-wise, I’d be familiar with a lot of them. I’ve never won at Welford Road before. I played there maybe seven or eight times and haven’t won there, so that would be something I’d love to do.”
Wilson was a half-time replacement against Montpellier on Friday, a move apparently made when Anscombe lost patience with the error county. Wilson did manage to steady the ship, but few others in white could add the unpredictability needed to break the Top 14 side open a fourth time.
The win means the northern province go into the final round of pool games as the number one seed in Europe. From here on in, bonus points will be of little concern to them, winning will do for Ulster.