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James Hume: 'We're not a side that loses two in a row, so that is a real focus for this week'

Ulster face Bulls this afternoon just a week after their controversial loss to the Stormers.

Hume believes Ulster can chalk up a win.
Hume believes Ulster can chalk up a win.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE LAST TIME James Hume played in South Africa, he scored a try. Beyond that, however, the memories are not so favourable of their meeting with the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in 2019.

Nine tries conceded in a 63-26 hammering at Toyota Stadium, the centre can remember all too well the crippling effect of the altitude they were playing at.

“The one thing I remember is thinking to myself, ‘We’ve got to be 72 minutes in here at least’, and I looked up at the clock and it was 54 and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ My legs and chest were on fire,” he grimaces.

“We tried to match the tempo and the pace that the Cheetahs played with, and they were coming off the back of the Currie Cup win, so we had put ourselves in a tough position already.

“It’ll be altered this week, it’ll be a different game plan, we’ll be a bit more sensible about what we’re doing.”

james-hume-and-junior-pokomela Hume in action against the Cheetahs in '19 Source: Frikkie Kapp/INPHO

This week will be similar, Ulster taking to Loftus Versfeld Stadium which is 1,350m above sea level in Pretoria as they take on former team-mate Marcell Coetzee and his Vodacom Bulls looking to avoid back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.

After the frustration of their controversial defeat to the DHL Stormers last week – which Hume admits was “the most annoyed I’ve ever been after a game having not played” – Ulster know a win is vital for them to keep their top-two United Rugby Championship hopes alive, as well as for momentum heading into next week’s Heineken Champions Cup last-16 first-leg away to Toulouse.

“We’re not a side that loses two in a row, so it’s a real focus going into this week for there to be professionalism from the whole squad to get a win at altitude against a tough side this week,” adds the centre.

“Any team that has gone away to South Africa has had a tough time. It’s unbelievably tough conditions, very warm with fast playing teams.

“I’ve done my homework and the team knows the plan this week, we know where they’re weak and it’s our job to work in training on how to exploit that. I won’t go into details on where they’re weak because that would be stupid.

“We’re prepared for another massive game, we know it’ll be chaotic at times, but it’s how we centre ourselves and our game.”

For the first time since February 2020, Hume will be partnered by Luke Marshall in the centre, the latter having finally returned from a lengthy injury absence in last week’s game in Cape Town and jumping into the starting line-up for today’s game at Loftus Versfeld (1pm Irish time, Premier Sport).

Head coach Dan McFarland hailed the 31-year-old as a “spiritual leader” in the squad, something Hume backed up as he prepares to play alongside him in the midfield.

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“Lukey’s a very natural leader on the pitch, even though he doesn’t try to be. His voice when I was younger – I’m only 23 but when I was even younger, like 21 – when I was playing with him, what I noticed was how precise his communication was in defence. He read the game so well,” enthused the Ireland international. 

“Then obviously in attack he’s unbelievable at running those short lines. It’s been a tough time for him, it’s hard to watch someone have that many setbacks, but I’m ecstatic to see him back.”

Vodacom Bulls: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe, Chris Smith, Zak Burger; Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Mornay Smith, Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje, Marcell Coetzee (CAPT), Cyle Brink, Elrigh Louw

Replacements: Joe van Zyl, Simphiwe Matanzima, Robert Hunt, Reinhardt Ludwig, Arno Botha; Keagan Johannes, Morne Steyn, Lionel Mapoe

Ulster: Mike Lowry, Ben Moxham, James Hume, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy, Ian Madigan, Nathan Doak, Andrew Warwick, Brad Roberts, Marty Moore, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (CAPT), Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen

Replacements: Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Mick Kearney, Matty Rea, John Cooney, Marcus Rea, Stewart Moore.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)

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