Ulster enjoying favourites' tag, says ex-Ulster centre Maurice Field


BBC analyst Maurice Field says Ulster "appear to enjoy being tagged as favourites" as they prepare to face Glasgow in Friday night's Heineken Cup game at Ravenhill.

The Irish province beat Glasgow 19-8 at Firhill in October and lead Pool 4 on 15 points, with the Scottish outfit languishing at the bottom of the group without a win.

"Ulster will rightly start as favourites as Ravenhill has become something of a fortress - the energy and buzz generated by the crowd can give the players the feeling that they are invincible.

"The narrow defeat by Northampton in Belfast was a wake-up call however and Glasgow lie second in the Pro12 and are playing a good style of rugby under their coach, Gregor Townsend.

"They are well drilled up front and there will be a massive battle at the point of contact at the breakdown," warned the former Ulster centre.

Field described Ulster's second-half display in their 47-17 win over the Scarlets on Friday as "exceptional" and was particularly pleased to see the forwards getting among the tries.

"There is pace, power and enthusiasm throughout the team and the forwards are not just there for the scrums, the lineouts and to hit the rucks.

"All the players want their hands on the ball and are keen to play an exciting brand of rugby which involves passing the ball quickly."

Long-term absentees Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe and Johann Muller are all set to miss the game, as well as the tesing trip to Castres a week later, while coach Mark Anscombe must await fitness reports on Jared Payne, Adam D'Arcy, Luke Marshall and Dan Tuohy.

"The strength in depth of the squad and competition for places have been key factors in Ulster's success so far this season, but they cannot afford to have too many more players injured," said Field.

"The players who have come in have done really well though - Ricky Andrew has shown great maturity and slotted in seamlessly at full-back, Lewis Stevenson is back from injury and Neil McComb hasn't looked out of place at all.

"Victories over Glasgow and Castres would guarantee a home quarter-final, although winning in France is something Ulster have yet to achieve, so that will be a massive ask.

"It is possible however if they do the simple things well and continue to play as they are doing.

"Ulster have shown they are able to win away from home on a regular basis and have the likes of Iain Henderson to come back into the team.

"John Afoa will probably start in these two games, and they have Rory Best to come in too.

"Mark Anscombe has set high targets and is not happy to give away soft scores - the squad must maintain those standards if they are to keep alive their hopes of winning both the Pro12 and the Heineken Cup."

Anscombe has emphasised the importance of his side improving their defence and work at the breakdown when they return to European action.

"There are areas where we need to be a lot better - our setpieces are going to have to keep growing and some of our defence was soft against the Scarlets - we can't afford to be like that against Glasgow," argued the New Zealander.

"If we don't get our work at the breakdown sorted out, then we will be in trouble too," he added.