Pro12 semi-final defeat will motivate Ulster - Ryan Constable

Ulster Head Coach Neil Doak and scrum-half Paul Marshall
Ulster Head Coach Neil Doak and scrum-half Paul Marshall

BBC Sport NI analyst Ryan Constable believes the disappointment of Ulster's last-gasp Pro12 semi-final defeat by Glasgow in May will provide extra motivation for the Irish province to try and win the trophy this season.

In the immediate aftermath of the match at Scotstoun, Ulster skipper Rory Best said it would "take a long time to get over" the agonising 16-14 reverse.

But the former Australia international says coming so close to making the Kingspan Stadium decider will make the players determined to progress further.

"The Ulster players and coaches will have reviewed that game and since then they have had an off-season and pre-season so I think they will have put that firmly behind them.

Ulster's opening Pro12 matches
Friday, 4 SeptemberOspreys (home)
Saturday, 12 SeptemberScarlets (away)
Friday, 2 OctoberBenetton Treviso (home)
Friday, 16 OctoberEdinburgh (away)

"None of the other Pro12 teams have taken quantum leaps forward over the summer so I expect the usual suspects to be contending at the business end of the season."

With all club sides facing the prospect of playing at least the first two months of the domestic campaign without their international players because of the Rugby World Cup, squad strength in depth will be an even more important issue than in recent years.

"I believe Ulster are better equipped than most to cope with the absence of key personnel as the Academy is producing players with a lot of potential and Bryn (Cunningham) has brought in some quality Irish qualified players.

"I expect most of the other teams in the competition to be affected to a greater degree."

The likes of Jack Owens, Jacob Stockdale, Sam Arnold and Frank Taggart have impressed coming through the ranks, while fly-half Sam Windsor and London Welsh duo Peter Browne and Paul Rowley have been added to the panel.

Kiss will provide fresh impetus

"A lot of the top Irish performers in the Under-20 World Cup were from Ulster and some of them will be expected of them now to step up to senior status after being exposed to pre-season training.

"Browne made a pretty good start against Leinster and while there have not been any high profile signings, the squad should have the necessary depth to cope with possible injury problems, the World Cup and the Six Nations.

"Everyone will be glad to have Stuart Olding back on the pitch whenever he overcomes his latest injury setback, while Andrew Trimble returns after missing much of last season.

"From a coaching perspective, Neil Doak and Allen Clarke both have another year of experience under their belts and the arrival of Les Kiss in November will provide fresh impetus and innovation to an already very strong management team.

"Les is very highly regarded among the players and it is all about making little improvements game on game, year on year. The addition of Joe Barakat as defence coach should also bring more ideas to the party."

Joe Barakat
Former Waratahs defence coach Joe Barakat joins Ulster on a two-year contract

Progress in Europe may prove elusive

Ulster have been grouped with Saracens, Toulouse and Oyonnax in Pool 1 of the European Rugby Champions Cup but Constable believes it is hard to judge how the group will pan out at the start of the season.

"Saracens are a real force in European rugby now and the outcome of Ulster's match against them in Belfast in November could well define their prospects in the pool.

"It's important to get points on the board and build up some momentum as clubs are becoming very pragmatic in their approach to tactics in Europe.

"I think the European Cup will be a difficult proposition for all the Irish provinces because of the quality of players being recruited by the best Top 14 and English Premiership sides.

"Ulster have the players to be competitive and to challenge to qualify out of their group, but how far Ireland progress in the World Cup could have a major impact on the ambitions of the Irish sides hoping to do well in Europe.

"Everyone wants to see Ireland go far in the World Cup but the impact of a potentially quick turnaround, and the inevitable lack of preparation time that would bring, would make the hopes of progression in Europe more difficult."

Ryan Constable was talking to BBC Sport NI's Richard Petrie