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Dublin: 2°C Sunday 27 September 2020

'To win in Dublin next weekend we'll have to take a giant step forward'

Dan McFarland’s Ulster are 10-point underdogs for the Pro14 final against Leinster.

BILLY BURNS SUMMED it up well as the dust began to settle on the Ian Madigan’s dramatic show of composure off the tee in Murrayfield.

No one remembers semi-final winners.

Ulster demonstrated grit and resilience to come from behind and beat Edinburgh on Saturday night, just the third time a team has won away from home in the Pro14 semi-finals, but there is an even greater test ahead in the final.

Leo Cullen’s Leinster will be aiming to defend their title and win a 25th consecutive game in the process this coming Saturday evening at the Aviva Stadium, with Ulster very much in the role of underdogs for this inter-provincial final.

edinburgh-v-ulster-guinness-pro14-semi-final-bt-murrayfield Ian Madigan celebrates his winning kick on Saturday. Source: PA

Ulster will take some confidence from after Saturday, of course. Self-belief in their high-tempo and skillful attacking philosophy shone through as they scored three second-half tries, while their maul overcame first-half issues to provide the platform for two of those scores.

McFarland’s bench had a major impact, even beyond the goal-kicking class of Madigan. Experienced prop pair Jack McGrath and Marty Moore played with the hunger of two men who had received a kick up the arse by being left on the bench behind younger players, delivering impetus and no shortage of skill in the second half.

Once-capped Ireland international lock Kieran Treadwell was at his hard-working best after replacing Sam Carter, teaming up well with Alan O’Connor in a physical second row combination. And the return from injury of flanker Sean Reidy was a huge boost as the underrated Ireland international added real aggression and quality as a replacement.

Alby Mathewson didn’t have outstanding moments but was a calm influence in the number 21 shirt, while 22-year-old Michael Lowry underlined his rich promise as he came on at fullback in a reshuffled back three.

With the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Stuart McCloskey, and Jacob Stockdale making big plays throughout, there was plenty to like about Ulster but there was plenty to be concerned by too.

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Their wastefulness in the opposition 22 simply cannot be repeated against Leinster, who will limit their opportunities in that area of the pitch and squeeze them tightly whenever they do get in. Ulster have to find a far more clinical edge.

Edinburgh managed to get outside and go through Jared Payne’s defence on a number of occasions too, giving the former Ireland centre an ideal amount of work this week.

john-andrew-scores-a-try John Andrew after scoring in Edinburgh. Source: Ian Rutherford/INPHO

The reality is that there is no external pressure whatsoever on Ulster for this final. Leinster are the 10-point favourites and the widespread expectation is that Cullen’s men will deliver an improved performance to retain their crown as Pro14 champions. The reality is that Ulster lost to Leinster’s second team just two weekends ago.

But McFarland and co. will be content to come into this contest as underdogs, even if you would expect they will apply internal pressure.

“It’s going to take another huge effort,” said McFarland on Saturday night. “We’ll have a look at our game plan and the way we play against them. There’s not many teams that find success against them.

“We’ll have a particular way that we want to play and we’ll see if we can implement it. We took a step forward in the second half [against Edinburgh], with less errors and looking more like ourselves, but to win in Dublin next week we’ll have to take a giant step forward.

“You’re happy to win a semi-final, it’s an achievement, but it’s the next achievement that you’re after, that’s to win silverware.

“We can’t get ahead of ourselves because we’ve not won a trophy and that’s ultimately what we want. If we don’t do that we’ll be really disappointed.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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