Ulster need to be at the top table insists defence coach Jonny Bell

Jonny Bell
Ulster defence coach Jonny Bell speaks to the media at Kingspan Stadium ahead of the United Rugby Championship meeting with Benetton on Friday night

Defence coach Jonny Bell insists it is imperative Ulster are in the Champions Cup next season.

Qualification for Europe’s premier competition is on a knife-edge for the Kingspan Stadium side despite a much-needed league win against Cardiff last Friday night.

The four points won against the Welsh region didn’t help Ulster’s plight to finish in the top eight of the United Rugby Championship as they slipped to 10th, and the battle to climb back up the table starts on Friday night when Benetton visit Belfast.

If the Sharks go on to win the Challenge Cup, Ulster will have to finish seventh in the league, or they will miss out on playing in the Champions Cup for the first time since its inception in 1995.

“They’re (Sharks) banking on winning the Challenge Cup and getting that Champions Cup spot, we can only control what we can control,” said Bell.

“When I was away from Ulster, I was in the Challenge Cup a number of years and, look, it’s still a competitive cup but nobody would disagree that the Champions Cup is where we want to be.

“There’s a history and a pedigree there and we want to be part of that. We’ll have to roll our sleeves up and fight tooth and nail to get there.”

Bell knows Ulster need better performances in the run-in than the one they produced against Cardiff.

“You’ve got to be composed and try and create confidence within the playing group, you don’t shy away from things that you need to improve on,” said the former Ireland centre.

“Every team is the same, they’ll be trying to improve on various aspects, when you go through a rough patch and there are younger players in there, sometimes confidence can go.

“As a coach, you’re trying to give those players confidence and belief, we know we can only control what we can control and that’s the next game in front of us.

“We look at the things we did well against Cardiff and the things we need to improve on from Cardiff and we try and build on that week on week.

“Again, we’re playing good sides but, if we do that, then we believe we can get those results that we need to get us where we want to finish this season.

“We’re not stupid, we know we need to be a lot better, Cardiff can feel hard done by, they’re a good side and they’ve lost a lot of games this season but they’ve lost very tight games.

“I think they lost 20-15 to Munster down in Limerick and a number of times they’ve been within try bonus points.

“We did some things well and there are some things we need to be better at, I think our attack, we were making good inroads and creating opportunities, I suppose it’s about holding onto the ball and keeping possession at appropriate times.”

“Our ball retention and breakdown work is something we’re always going to improve on.

“Our line-out was excellent, defensively we have little moments, a soft try off the tail of the line-out and then a mistake on the edge.

“We’re far from the finished article.”

Bell confirmed that prop Steven Kitshoff and centre James Hume are ruled out for the rest of the season due to injury.

“James Hume has a significant injury and we wish him a speedy recovery,” he said.

“Steven Kitshoff, he’s had an MCL injury and that’s unfortunately been the end of his time, hugely disappointing for him and his wife.

“They’ve decided to move back and get surgery in South Africa. We wish him all the best and no doubt we’ll see him in the future in Cape Town.

“Tom O’Toole has taken a bang as well that’s more of a short-term thing.”