Ulster Skipper Confident
24th January 2012 By jess
Given the group they’d emerged from, you might have expected Ulster skipper Johan Muller to be a little more upbeat after his side’s narrow defeat in Clermont Auvergne. Instead there was disappointment and maybe a day of atonement. In April. In Limerick.
Ulster, thanks to unlikely help from Connacht the night before, were already guaranteed inclusion in the knock-out stages, so performance comparison bore no relation with previous events in Michelin land involving Munster and Leinster.
Still and all, the 1999 European Cup winners and Munster's quarter final opponents, deserve huge praise for that performance. And much more credit than the match officials, who at a crucial stage, ignored the blatant and continuous actions of Nathan Hines as he deliberately held two Ulster players as they attempted to get back into an Ulster line being battered by Clermont attackers.
It was a shame to see such a great player reduced to cheating. Even a greater shame that the sanction the Scot deserved wasn't forthcoming.
It (v Clermont) was the one that got away from us." Muller said. "We really wanted a quarter-final at Ravenhill. . At the end of the day we're happy to be in the quarter-final but disappointed we didn't get the home one."
"So yes, very disappointed." he continued. " But I think that shows the character of the squad and the way we've been growing over the last eighteen, twenty-four months.
"Yes we're happy we're in the quarter final but didn't get the spot we wanted, a home quarter final.
" Look, we've got a great squad, fantastic players, a great management. Everybody has made a huge step up over the past twenty-four months and I think it's shown by our performances on the field. So if we can continue this growth, climbing up and getting better as a side I think the future of Ulster rugby is a very special one."
And the future Muller speaks of, without saying is based on European rather than Celtic competition and therefore the next round, the quarter finals.
"It wasn't really in our hands." he says in terms of who they were pitched against in the last eight. "It was either Munster or Leinster. I haven't played in the Aviva and I haven't played down in Limerick as well. It'll be a first for me. So its a huge challenge.
"Munster obviously missed out last year so to come back and be the top team from the pool stages is a great effort from them. And the type of game they put together at the weekend to score 51 points away from home against Northampton is an unbelievable result for them.
"Yes it's going to be tough. But we've shown some glimpses of brilliance over the past number of weeks And if we can create that again and be a little more street-wise and little more clever in certain situations then there's no reason why we can't get a win down there.
"So we know it's going to be tough, that's why we play these game. We are true contenders. " he says as he warms to the idea. " Yes we have an unbelievably tough road ahead and it starts with Munster away.
"But if one or two calls go our way. And the bounce of the ball goes our way on the day. Anything is possible down there.
There are eight sides who can win this tournament. And it's the side that take their opportunities the best that will get on top."