Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Ulster's Nick Timoney (file pic).
Under Pressure
Ulster aiming to end miserable run
For flanker Nick Timoney, it is an opportunity he is relishing.

TONIGHT PRESENTS ULSTER with another bounce-back opportunity that you feel they have to take given the rather unflattering run that they are on at present, and for flanker Nick Timoney it is an opportunity he is relishing.

After failing to exorcise the demons of their Heineken Champions Cup exit at the hands of Toulouse last week when they tamely succumbed to Munster at Kingspan Stadium, it leaves the northern province sixth in the United Rugby Championship and scrambling not just to make the play-offs but to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup.

On paper, their schedule could hardly be tougher, a trip to Edinburgh tonight (7.35pm), who are also battling for their knockout lives, and then welcoming the in-form Cell C Sharks to Kingspan Stadium in the final round of fixtures represents a brutal way to conclude their regular season.

Win tonight, though, and their quarter-final place is assured, as is their spot in Europe for next season. But lose their fifth game in six outings and things look a lot tougher going into a two-week break.

However, the mood within the camp is not a downbeat one, as Timoney is keen to stress. In fact, the Ireland international insists they are determined not to let another chance to prove themselves pass them by after what they served up in their inter-provincial clash a week ago.

“Al (O’Connor) gave me a good perspective on this a while ago. Any time you lose or have something go wrong, you have a chance to prove to yourself that you’re good and you weren’t just on a run,” says the 26-year-old.

“I’ve had plenty of times in my career where I’ve lost all sorts of games or not played well and been dropped from all sorts of teams. Every time you have adversity, you come back and prove you are good and you weren’t just on some sort of fluky run. If you know there are reasons for (your adversity) and you can fix them then that only adds to your confidence.

“We’re not happy with the last few weeks, but if we can get back to where we were, that only adds to our confidence that that top place we can get to is a fair reflection of where we are. Anyone can have a decent run, but the chance to prove to yourself you are as good as you think you are, I find that opportunity exciting.”

Ulster have proven this season they can mix it with the top sides in Europe by winning away to Leinster, Clermont and Toulouse, and their elimination from the Champions Cup by the latter by just a single point over two legs was nothing to be ashamed of, not that they were happy that was the outcome.

That is something the squad is holding onto as they navigate these choppy waters and try to regain that form that saw them pick up those big away wins, starting tonight at the DAM Health Stadium as they look to take one step closer to bringing a home quarter-final back to Belfast.

“We’re sitting here with two home losses, which we don’t like. But it’s not like we’re a million miles away and it was Munster and Toulouse, it’s not like they were two bad teams. We’re not happy with it, but I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel or something,” adds Timoney.

“When we do a few things a small bit better, we can beat some of the best teams in Europe. There are a few small margins where, if we’d done them slightly better, we wouldn’t be assessing things this way. You judge things on your outcomes, and we’re not where we want to be, but we’re not a million miles off it either.

“A few small tweaks and it’s more just doing things that we’ve already done this season. That gives us confidence, it’s not that we’re trying to exceed ourselves or get to a place we haven’t been before. If we get to where we’ve already shown we can be, we know we can beat anyone.

“We’re pretty confident. We haven’t had a good couple of weeks but I think we’ve shown this year what we’re capable of and hopefully, we can get back to that. I don’t think securing that home quarter-final spot is beyond us. Everything’s pretty tight at the top of the table, which is good for the competition and I think good for us because we tend to stand up when we’re challenged.”

Ulster have captain Iain Henderson available after he exited the defeat to Munster at half-time after going through a head injury assessment, while fly-half Billy Burns and Ireland second row Kieran Treadwell are back from the return to play protocols to start, the former’s return meaning Mike Lowry switches to full-back.

There’s only a second-ever Ulster start for tighthead prop Gareth Milasinovich, with Marty Moore (return to play protocols) and Tom O’Toole (suspension) absent, with Marcus Rea and Duane Vermeulen restored to the back row.

15. Mike Lowry; 14. Robert Baloucoune, 13. James Hume, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Ethan McIlroy; 10. Billy Burns, 9. Nathan Doak; 1. Andrew Warwick, 2. Rob Herring, 3. Gareth Milasinovich; 4. Kieran Treadwell, 5. Iain Henderson (captain); 6. Marcus Rea, 7. Nick Timoney, 8. Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: 16. Brad Roberts, 17. Eric O’Sullivan, 18. Ross Kane, 19. Alan O’Connor, 20. Matty Rea, 21. John Cooney, 22. Stewart Moore, 23. Rob Lyttle.

15. Jaco van der Walt; 14. Damian Hoyland, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. James Lang, 11. Emiliano Boffelli; 10. Blair Kinghorn, 9. Ben Vellacott; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. Stuart McInally, 3. WP Nel; 4. Jamie Hodgson, 5. Grant Gilchrist (captain); 6. Luke Crosbie, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Magnus Bradbury.
Replacements: 16. David Cherry, 17. Harrison Courtney, 18. Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19. Pierce Phillips, 20. Ben Muncaster, 21. Henry Pyrgos, 22. Chris Dean, 23. Matt Currie.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel