PREVIEW: Ulster Ravens vs Bristol Rugby
ADRIAN Jarvis has acknowledged that the British & Irish Cup has been good for Bristol this season.
Tonight, they will find out exactly how good.
Bristol have won all four matches they have played in the competition so far this term, beating Bridgend at home and away, Cardiff at the Arms Park and Ulster Ravens at the Memorial Stadium.
But defeat against Ulster's second-string at Deramore Park will effectively spell the end of their B&I Cup hopes, even with Cardiff still to visit the Memorial Stadium next weekend. Victory, on the other hand, could guarantee their spot in the last eight. The margins are fine – and fly-half Jarvis and his team-mates are desperate to win tonight, for a multitude of reasons.
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"I think the B&I Cup has been good for us – it always seems to have come at a good time, when perhaps things haven't been going quite so well in the league," he said.
"The B&I Cup has come up and we've been able to use it to kick on and get some good results. Hopefully, this Friday night will be the same.
"It's one of the things we put out there at the start of the season – that we want to be in both competitions for as long as we can be.
"That means that getting through to the knockout stages of the B&I Cup is one of our goals, so we're absolutely focused on getting a win on Friday night.
"Last summer, we set out what we wanted to do this season, which was to get to the knockout stages, and Friday's game will probably decide the group."
The fact Ulster's first team are also in action in Belfast tonight – they meet Glasgow in the Heineken Cup – has denied the Ravens the services of leading try-scorer Chris Cochrane and key forward Neil McComb.
But Jarvis believes that is no reason to assume the clash at Belfast Harlequins RFC will be anything but extremely difficult.
"They're a strong squad – they sent a decent side to Bristol for the first game, but we did well then," he said.
"It's going to take another huge effort from us to get a win over there. We know they have enough resources to put out two strong sides, so we're not expecting anything but a big challenge.
"You always find that teams rev it up a few extra notches at home – and Ulster are a good team anyway. They were good when they came to us earlier in the season – they were physical, they've got some good backs and they've got a lot of RaboDirect experience. They're obviously good players and they always put a strong side out, so it should be a good game.
"It's always nice to win, and the more wins you get on the bounce, the more confidence there is. So a win away against them would be a great result for us – it's those kind of scalps that you like to go and get away from home, and it would be absolutely fantastic for us."
And the fly-half knows Bristol must guard against a repeat of the opening 20 minutes against Cornish Pirates on New Year's Day.
Bristol were slow out of the blocks at The Mennaye and ended up chasing the game and losing 32-17 – something he knows they cannot afford to do in Belfast this evening.
"Ulster is our focus, but we've looked at the Pirates game and things didn't really go our way – we didn't play as well as we can for the first 20 minutes and that was the difference," said Jarvis. "But we've acknowledged that and we know that that's something we've got to look at."