substance on top of style

Ulster taking lessons from latest Toulouse slip-up with clinical approach to take apart Oyonnax

Don’t expect Barbarians rugby when Ulster go chasing a bonus point win on Saturday, expect relentless pragmatism.

AS THEY LOOK into a weekend of relative uncertainty, Ulster at least aren’t kidding themselves.

A bonus point win is the aim, none of this wishy-washy chat about winning the game first and then seeing what happens. Failure to get four tries will almost certainly mean failure in progressing from the pool stage.

Les Kiss and Neil Doak Presseye / Jonathan Porter/INPHO Presseye / Jonathan Porter/INPHO / Jonathan Porter/INPHO

To do that though, backs coach Neil Doak is emphasising a very pragmatic approach to Saturday’s Pool 1 1pm kick-off in Belfast. Making the game expansive, fractured and frenetic would suit the visitors. Ulster may have received rave reviews from outside the group for their 24-point comeback win in the reverse fixture, but Doak suffered too much in the Alps to take anything but a lesson.

“We’re disappointed with the Oyonnax away game. The second half is how we wanted to play most of the game. Unfortunately that didn’t happen for us,” Doak said overlooking the Kingspan Stadium pitch where his charges will hope to put his plan in to place.

“It’s about us this week, we’ve to make sure our basics are good. If you look at the second half over there, that’s the template we want to have. We played in the right areas. We had six or seven set-pieces in the first 15 minutes of the second half and we came away with points on the board. It’ll be similar this weekend.”


Watching Oyonnax beat Toulouse at home, despite being out of the Champions Cup running, last weekend has only solidified Doak’s notion. Les Oyomen defeated the mighty south-westerners 32 – 14, but the game could easily have swung against them as Toulouse had battled back through a snowstorm to reduce a 17 – 0 deficit to 17 -14 before almost immediately shooting themselves in the foot with a 48th minute gift offered up to Fabien Cibray.

“Toulouse probably threw the ball around and put them under serious pressure. Just that killer punch at the end fell to the wayside.

“The periods they did do well, they actually put the ball in behind Oyonnax. (Toulouse) got a charge-down and got back to 17 – 14, then from the restart, an intercept. All the hard work they did to get to that point negated by some frivolous play with the ball around their 22.

“That’s what we’ve emphasised: it’s not about chasing anything, it’s about doing your basics. Making sure you play in the right areas, pressurise them and make sure you’re clinical when you get your opportunities.

Even though we’re trying to keep the ball in hand and score tries, sometimes the kick plays are what opens it up. Because defences are flat up.”

“That the message for us. It’s not going to be ‘throw the ball around’ trying to chase everything. You’ve gotta build a platform, build some substance in the game and something to springboard the rest of your game around.”

Ulster will hope that Chris Henry can shrug off a persistent shoulder injury to form part of that solid platform, even if the problem was bad enough to keep him out of the Six Nations squad. Nick Williams will hope to make as big an impact as he did in France two weeks ago and pull defenders in to make space for Doak’s back-line. There, Darren Cave will probably start his first game since injuring his shoulder in early December, meaning a slight rest for Luke Marshall. Jared Payne is likely to again play as a fullback with Louis Ludik struggling with a groin issue.

Ulster players celebrate winning and salute their fans Presseye / Pascal Pavani/INPHO Presseye / Pascal Pavani/INPHO / Pascal Pavani/INPHO

Two fruitless encounters with Saracens are behind Ulster, regrets to add to the missed bonus points away to Oyonnax and Toulouse. It’s not all about one 80-minute window, but it’s all they can control now.

“We always knew it was going to come down to this game. We just have to make sure we do our job. Ultimately we have to rely on a couple of results going our way. If that happens then at least we’ve done our job, we’ve painted a good picture for other teams and put them under a bit of pressure.

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