Ulster in it to win it says defence coach Jonny Bell ahead of Challenge Cup quarter-final clash with Clermont

Province three games away from winning first silverware since 2006

Ulster defence coach Jonny Bell
Ulster defence coach Jonny Bell (PA)

Ulster defence coach Jonny Bell says the province are in the European Challenge Cup to win it as they prepare to face Clermont in a quarter-final clash on Saturday.

Ulster are potentially three games away from winning silverware for the first time since 2006 – a victory in the tournament would also guarantee Champions Cup rugby next season regardless of where the Kingspan Stadium club finish in the domestic league.

“We’re out to win stuff,” stated Bell.

“Ulster have been used to Champions Cup rugby over the years. In Gloucester I was used to Challenge Cup rugby.

“Some people see it as a step down because it’s not the main competition, but I’ll tell you what, there are some very good sides in this competition.

“We’re certainly in it to win it, we don’t want to leave anything out there and we want to make sure we deliver this weekend to get better. But it would be lovely to crack on and keep a bit of momentum in the season. It’s important for us.

“This second half of the season, we’ve talked about building momentum.

“This game, where there’s usually a break, gives us a chance to crack on and get some consistency in our performance. If you win it then you get to a semi-final and it’s all to play for.

“We’ve got a number of big fixtures in the URC coming up so, not to over-egg talking about momentum, it just gives you that momentum and consistency in the selections you make and hopefully it gives us that momentum going into the next few games.”

Bell was part of the only Ulster team to lift a European trophy when they won the Heineken Cup in 1999.

“That’s a long time ago and it’s a very different landscape now. Yet this group of players have always been very, very determined,” he said.

“They want to achieve things, no doubt about it, winning silverware is not easy. Every team has got quality squads, they’re well prepared and they want to win stuff.

“So it’s not an easy game to win, but this group is really determined to finish this season well and certainly win some silverware.

“It’s there for us if we want to take it, but we have to get over some hurdles first and this weekend is a big one.”

Clermont are one of a number of teams in the last eight for whom a Challenge Cup triumph could offer the best rout into the top competition next season. As such Bell thinks they will be fully loaded for the visit of Ulster.

“We’re focused on making sure that we’re performing well, we want better performances week on week and we want to win,” he said.

“We’re steadily getting better, we had a better performance against the Stormers and that didn’t result in a victory so we wanted to follow it up with another performance and get a win. Now, we probably got a mixed performance and got the win.

“Montpellier had a sort of mixed side, but I think Clermont will go strong.

“We’re going to focus on what we’re doing and make sure that no matter what 15 they put on the pitch, we’re going to put in a performance that we’re proud of and that our fans are proud of.

“The hoodoo of going to France has been shifted and these players are comfortable going away from home and getting a performance.”

“We talk, as a group, more about ourselves than the opposition.

“You have to respect what they’re going to bring but if we can be more accurate with the ball and if we can be harder to play against without the ball, then we have players who can change the game as well.”