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Ulster take heed of Manchester United’s cautionary cup tale

Few know what Montpellier will bring to Ravenhill on Friday, but Mark Anscombe has his side focused on their own game.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

WILFRIED BONY’S LATE header in Swansea’s FA Cup third round win over Manchester United on Sunday even caught the attention of Ulster coach Mark Anscombe.

The Kiwi is gearing his side up for this Friday night’s visit of Montpellier. And, while it may seem strange to think of a big-budget Top 14 side as an underdog, Fabien Galthie appears to be placing secondary importance on the Heineken Cup having already lost twice at home and dropped out of the shake-up for a quarter-final place.

As a result many Ulster fans are expecting nothing less than four points, or perhaps five on Friday night. Anscombe though, only needs to point across channel to illustrate the danger of complacency.

“People expect that,” he told The Score.ie today, but that’s why we see surprise results in all sports – Manchester United got beaten, was that expected? It shouldn’t happen, but it happens.

“You don’t take anything for granted… the only thing you take for granted is that you don’t take anything for granted.”

It’s not the catchiest of maxims to live by, but it will do for this week. With the visitors likely to rotate the squad away from their strongest XV, Anscombe’s main focus is on making sure his own systems of both attack and defence are sound before he considers any possible tweaks once the team-sheets are handed in.

Fear

“We’re aware of what they have and some of the strengths they have in that team, and they do have a lot of quality players. But in a game like this, what’s important is us understanding what we need to do to get our game in order.

“That’s what you need to do sometimes. You can’t spend your whole time analysing and breaking down and fearing the opposition. You’ve got to be aware of what you’re playing and what they bring, but you’ve also got to make sure you’re progressing the bits about you and bringing your own game on.”

One player who might make Anscombe shift a little uncomfortably is the explosive back he handed a Northland debut to back in 2006, Rene Ranger.

“He’s a class act. He’s a character, he’s a bit loose, but man he can play rugby. He’s a guy I’ve enormous respect for, he’s tough, he’s fast and he reads the game well. If we give him any opportunities and space, we’ll be the worse for it.”

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The Kiwi laughs at the suggestion he might prefer if the winger he coached for three years did not make the trip to Belfast, but added:

“In a way I want him there so I can see him again. He’s a quality player, but we’ve got quality in our team and if he’s playing we’ve got to make sure we don’t give him opportunities, freedom or space – all players can be nullified if you do the right work first.”

The team tasked with doing that work are not likely to be greatly different from the side that beat Munster last Friday. Anscombe reported nothing more serious than bumps and bruises to be nursed through the week and but he will have a full deck of senior back rows to pick from after Chris Henry, Iain Henderson and Nick Williams all came back into contention in recent weeks.

Another Friday night at Ravenhill another Swansea visit to Old Trafford, Anscombe would certainly take a repeat result.

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Sean Farrell

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