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Ulster 'back in the mix' but big improvement demanded from line-out

One win down, but how many will the northern province need to escape pool three?
Dec 8th 2014, 7:00 AM 1,997 0

THREE GAMES IN and six points on the board. The Champions Cup is not exactly going according to plan for Ulster, but head coach Neil Doak says Saturday’s win over Scarlets has kept hope alive within his squad.

In the first of the back-to-back meetings with the Welsh side, tries from Darren Cave, Ruan Pienaar, Tommy Bowe and Rory best gave the northern province the bonus point 24 – 9 win necessary to avoid certain elimination.

“We’ve got ourselves still in the mix,” Doak said post-match.

“That’s what we talked about: making sure we give ourselves something to play for next week. That’s a great credit to the guys. I couldn’t have asked any more of them. We’ve just got to rest up, look after ourselves, go over to Scarlets and try to do the same.”

Doak was speaking before Leicester Tigers pulled off a win over Heineken Cup champions Toulon to move to within a point of the Top 14 side before the return fixture in France. Ulster captain Best, though, will be ensuring his squad don’t spend too much time dwelling on possible permutations – certainly not ones outside of their control.

“We said after round two you write us off at your peril,” Best told BT sport.

“We still feel nobody knows exactly what it will take to go through as a second place team. All we can do is look after our own stuff and try to chip off the wins as they come.”

While the immediate impression of watching Ulster was of a laboured victory. The wintry conditions in Belfast made cohesive attacking an extremely difficult task, a fact which man of the match Cave was keen to point out.

“It wasn’t an easy night to play rugby. And I think to get four tries on a night like tonight is a pretty good effort. At the end there, we were a man down, I thought we dug deep then to keep them out.

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“I don’t think it was a perfect performance, but when you get a result like that without playing that well it’s a sign of a good team. We’re happy enough.”

The joy from victory will be tempered by a quintet of new injury concerns. And both Best and Doak singled out the line-out as an area which must improve if Ulster are to keep hope alive (again) by putting another five points on the board in Llanelli.

“I challenged them to two mauled tries. They only got one,” joked Doak after seeing his side lose five of their 19 line-outs – stealing two of Scarlets’ six.

“The line-out didn’t function as well in the first half as we hoped it would.  Especially when you get so many line-outs in games, it’s key to give you a platform to get into the game.”

Ulster’s pool gets even tighter as Leicester down star-studded Toulon

Ruan returns, half and half from Hump and more talking points after Ulster beat Scarlets

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Sean Farrell

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