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Rea, right, and Ulster have won 10 out of 10 in the Pro14 so far this season.
Rea, right, and Ulster have won 10 out of 10 in the Pro14 so far this season.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

'We have to go down and fire our shot, regardless of how good they are'

Matty Rea and Ulster are ready for a high-stakes clash against Leinster on Friday evening.
Jan 7th 2021, 8:38 AM 7,424 0

YOU WOULD BE forgiven for looking at Ulster’s wretched record against Leinster in Dublin and think they’re going to try and soak up pressure tomorrow night and snatch something on the counter-attack.

Since 1999, only the Johann Muller-led 2012/13 Ulster team have triumphed over their rivals at either Lansdowne Road or the RDS Arena, and routine beatings have become the norm any time a northern side makes the foreboding trip down the M1.

Usually those reverses come with Ulster sending a much rotated side to the RDS, but this year that certainly won’t be the case.

With Dan McFarland’s side currently leading Leinster in Conference A of the Guinness Pro14 by 10 points in a two-horse race for first place – having played two games more – it’ll be a fully loaded team that makes the trip, particularly with their interest in Europe all but gone.

And, knowing that a win would more or less put one foot in March’s Pro14 final already, they’re not coming down to let Leinster dictate proceedings. They’re coming with the intention of heaping more misery on their southern rivals after last week’s loss to Connacht.

After all, Ulster are the only unbeaten side left in the competition with 10 wins from 10, and five of those have been on the road, albeit not in the problematic ground that the RDS has proven to be so far down the years. They also have that frustrating Pro14 final defeat to put right as well, the pain of which has lasted into this season.

And while the confidence hasn’t bordered into over-confidence, there is a quiet assurance within Kingspan Stadium that this Ulster side is not as far off the defending champions as those outside the walls may think.

“We take a lot of confidence that we’ve gone away to difficult grounds this season and got results. So far this season we have confidence on the road and we have to take that in,” insists flanker Matty Rea.

“We have to go down and fire our shot, regardless of how good they are. There’s a pedestal that they’re on at the minute in European rugby. For us, it’s massive we go down regardless of reputation and show what we can do.

“We can’t let the game come to us and let them dictate, we have to go down and put our stamp on it early. Regardless of the result, I think if we perform then we’ll be proud of the effort.

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“I think there’s definitely an added spice to the game because it’s a straight shoot-out for first in the Conference. That probably adds to it. We know if we go down and beat Leinster we’re in a good position to finish top.

“We have that pressure, and as a group we know what this game means to us. There’s no misunderstanding about how important it is.”

That being said, Leinster suffering back-to-back defeats is not something that happens frequently, and even less so at home. James Ryan addressed the hurt that the squad were feeling after the shock reverse against Connacht and Ulster know they’ll be on the receiving end of the response to that.

But, at the same time, the westerners’ triumph has also provided something of a blueprint for Ulster to follow. The smart kicking of Jack Carty will surely be replicated, as will Connacht’s aggressive line-speed in defence.

Most important, however, will be eliminating the mistakes from last week’s victory over Munster. Despite winning, McFarland declared himself disappointed with nine turnovers – the majority of which were in the Munster half – and that kind of wastefulness will be punished by Leo Cullen’s lethal outfit.

“I think Connacht put out a good model for us. I think for us, we have to go down there in the same mindset, play in the right areas of the pitch and not give Leinster any momentum and easy ways into the game,” added Rea.

“That’s a massive thing – discipline, giving easy ins into our 22 or our half of the pitch because they’ll play down there and put us through the phases. We know how good they are, they’re so clinical and always come away with points, so being smart about where we play the game and our discipline (is crucial).”

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Adam McKendry

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