Ryan wins a line-out on his last appearance against Northampton. Bryan Keane/INPHO
make or break

James Ryan treating Ulster clash as an early 'cup final'

The second row admits it’s ‘surreal’ but the games importance is writ large for the reigning champions.

BODIES AND EGOS are bruised, but Leinster are intent on battling back after defeat in a fixture they are billing as a ‘cup final’ against Ulster on Friday.

Provinces east and north are vying to be the sole qualifier from Conference A for the planned early finale to the Pro14. Ulster are the proud owners of a 100% winning record through their 10 matches in the tournament so far. Leinster have two matches in hand, but their loss to Connacht leaves them trailing Dan McFarland’s men by 10 points.

Hence the big-game intent from UCD this week.

“We’re treating this very much like a cup final,” says James Ryan, “Ulster will be doing the same. They’re probably out of Europe now, but they’re unbeaten in the league.”

The lock notes that it is ‘surreal’ to treat games that way while he is easing back after a short Christmas break. Their situation demands this urgency due to the pace Ulster have set.

“They’ll back themselves going away from home. I think they’ll have a lot of belief coming here. So there’s a bit of an edge to our preparation this week, probably a bit of a fear factor as well, which is often needed. 

“We realise that if we don’t perform then we won’t get the result we’re looking for.”

Backs coach Felipe Contepomi this week described Leinster’s three games ahead – encompassing two European pool matches that can strengthen their chances in the knock-out rounds – as season-defining. Those stakes, coupled with the sting of defeat, have put the ante right up.

“Losing, at home especially, to another province. It doesn’t happen very often,” adds Ryan before quickly shifting focus from Saturday to Friday.

“Look, we’re going to lose games. It’s how we respond at this stage.”

“It almost feels like, this next block for us (is) so big that it almost feels like a new season in some ways.

“Just looking forward to this week now and yeah, it’s a must-win game for us and I’m not looking too far past that to be honest with you.”

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