'Te’o and Ringrose, there was a lot of smoke blown up those guys’ asses, the Ulster centres ripped them to shreds'

There’s plenty of evidence to convince Stephen Ferris either side can win tonight’s big Pro12 semi-final.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

ULSTER LEGEND STEPHEN Ferris is doing his best to believe in his former team-mates’ chances of victory over Leinster tonight (kick-off 19.45).

The retired blindside has tied himself up in knots thinking about the variety of probabilities that may or may not unfold at the RDS, but there’s plenty of evidence to support either an argument for either side.

Stephen Ferris Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We made (Garry) Ringrose and (Ben) Te’o look very amateur up in Belfast. Hopefully the weather holds up because if it does, we can get good set-piece ball and hopefully we can get over the line,” Ferris said at Wednesday night’s Ulster Bank League awards.

“I think the last game is a pretty big deal because we went out and gave them a hammering. And, to be honest, the Leinster boys would have felt pretty embarrassed after it. You can’t mask it, they were absolutely hockeyed. It could have been a lot more.

Big names like Ben Te’o and Ringrose, there was a lot of smoke blown up those guys’ asses and the two Ulster centres ripped them to shreds.”

Matches of this magnitude, of course, require far more than just Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall gaining the upper hand. Before that resounding inter-provincial win that has shaped the approach to this semi-final, Ferris was massively critical of Ulster’s style of play with limited carrying options outside of Iain Henderson.

Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Jackson and Stuart McCloskey with Johnny Sexton and Ben T'eo Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The performance that followed, albeit against an off-colour Leinster on a dry track, quietened his unrest and he believes the combination stumbled on that day can again do a job in Dublin.

“Sean Reidy came in at number eight against Leinster, I didn’t really expect it but he came in and played really well. He’s a really good dynamic ball-carrier. He isn’t someone who looks for the contact, he uses his feet and gets offloads away. Chris Henry’s started to find form over the last couple of weeks and Hendy just does what he does.

“With the dry ball, our line-out is functioning well. You’ll notice we’re not mauling a lot. We’re just getting it off the top and giving it to our big runners.”

As kick-off draws near, Ferris describes Leinster as ‘stuttering’ and his home province as ‘the form team’ on the back of four straight wins. And yet, there’s still that nagging doubt he shares with so many Ulstermen who will stand around TVs and the RDS tonight.

Sean Reidy is tackled by Rob Kearney Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

It’s Leinster after all. The knock-out blows they have inflicted on Ulster in both the league and European Cup across 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 still sting.

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“Everybody says. ‘do you think Ulster are going to win?’

“I’m hoping they’re going to win, but I’m begrudgingly sitting on the fence, because I’ve been down here too many times and went home with my tail between my legs.”

He adds: “We just need to get off to a good start. If we go seven points behind, we know Ulster performances aren’t great when they have to come from seven, 14-point deficits and trying to chase a game to come back into it.

“We’re better at building a lead and once we get our noses in front we get a lot more confident.

“That’s what would slightly worry me, if Leinster are that bit more fired up, with the home crowd, Friday night, great atmosphere and people filtering in straight out of the pub they might get a score up on us.”

I think it’s going to be a massive game. If Leinster lose this game, there’ll be calls for boys’ heads because it won’t sit well. However, if Ulster lose, it will be another one of those years where (it’s said): ‘ah, we’ve underachieved yet again… sure there’s always next year.’

“I think there’s an opportunity to go and win this bloody thing!”

If they can get over this particular hump, there may be no stopping them.

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Sean Farrell

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