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Gibbes pleased to still have a sniff of Pro14 playoffs as he bids to complete miracle comeback in Munster

‘We had no margin of error and we managed to fight and scratch our way through and get ourselves in a position to put pressure on Edinburgh.’
Apr 27th 2018, 8:02 AM 5,506 10

IT’S DO OR die time for Ulster if they want to complete one of the great comebacks in their recent history.

Were Jono Gibbes’ men reach the playoffs in the Guinness Pro14 given the position they were in no more than three weeks ago it would be nothing short of astounding.

Jono Gibbes Source: Presseye/Philip Magowan/INPHO

Having trailed third-placed Edinburgh by 13 points with three games to go, and having looked more likely to be caught by Benetton in fourth than to challenge the Scots, for Ulster to even be in the hunt is a minor miracle.

“It’s just good to be alive in the last game, to be honest,” Gibbes admitted. “We have that, we had no margin of error and we managed to fight and scratch our way through and get ourselves in a position to put pressure on Edinburgh.”

The turnaround has been remarkable, how Ulster turned from a side looking short of confidence and self-belief into a team who have begun racking up tries tries while ensuring their own line is rarely breached.

Jean Deysel and Matty Rea were at the forefront of a back row hitting form – though both are now injured – while a young corps of academy prospects have supplemented the first team with impressive bench cameos.

Jean Deysel with Jeff Hassler and Dan Evans Jean Deysel in action against Ospreys. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A bonus point win at Murrayfield over Edinburgh kicked off the revival, quickly followed by home wins over the Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors – the latter with a bonus point – and suddenly the Belfast-based outfit are back in the frame.

Not that they’re the favourites though. What it’d take to get them into that final three would be a bonus point win at Thomond Park tomorrow over a wounded Munster while also hoping Glasgow could deny Edinburgh anything at Murrayfield.

Even then, should that unlikely scenario occur, the reward would be a return south to Limerick for the quarter-final, but that can wait for later. Right now, they have to make sure they do their part this weekend just to stand a chance of getting there.

Easier said than done.

“Anyone who’s ever been down there and played a Munster team down there at Thomond, you certainly do not go down there with a mindset of getting four tries against them easily at all,” Gibbes laughed of the task facing his side.

“They’re a formidable opponent, a proud team down there and whoever pulls on that red jersey down there… it’s a big challenge for us. You know, we had to regroup a little after Saturday, get a bit of energy back and save it up because it will be ferocious for sure on Saturday.”

Still, knowing what they have to do makes the job a little bit easier – with fourth and at least a playoff for the Champions Cup secured, they can at least cut loose in the search of the four scores they need.

And having found that bit of form they’d been lacking all season, Ulster can head down south for the inter-pro knowing if they can replicate it tomorrow there’s no reason why they can’t do their part.

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Jono Gibbes during the warm up Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Our attack has become a little more potent, we are holding onto the ball a little bit more,” Gibbes explained. “I think the Ospreys game was a missed opportunity whereas we were able to work around the edges and to get more tries against that opposition is pleasing.

“I think the one thing throughout those three games, our bench has been good. They have come on and helped out a lot. There has been a good energy about the thing, they have tried really hard and putting massive effort into things for each other.

It is not perfect, but for me it’s satisfying to watch that hard work for each other, to enjoy working hard and celebrating their victories. They are satisfied, because they know what went into it.”

With Munster having played in an energy-sapping heated Champions Cup semi-final last Sunday against Racing 92, the logic suggests Johann van Graan could make changes for this weekend, widening the target for Ulster.

For Gibbes, he’s not going to approach Munster any differently than normal, the Kiwi coach is all too aware of the danger of the southern province from both his time with Leinster and this season.

“They have a good spirit, the recent tour of South Africa has got to be good for them, obviously a disappointing result last week but I wouldn’t want to second guess them,” he warned.

“I just know, having been down there previous times, you have got to have the attitude right before you go there.”

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