Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Beware a wounded Munster, warns Ulster coach McLaughlin

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin

With Ulster heading for Limerick at lunchtime today, coach Brian McLaughlin has been boosted by the news that back row forward David Pollock should be ready to resume in little over a week.

“All being well he might get a little bit of game time in the Ravens’ match against Munster next weekend,” said a delighted coach.

“Bryn Cunningham is making progress, too, so we’re approaching full strength.”

Right now, however, McLaughlin’s focus is on tomorrow evening’s test at Thomond Park, home of the Magners League champions.

Munster, coached by Tony McGahan, made an uncharacteristically unimpressive start to the season. In McLaughlin’s mind, however, that is not necessarily advantageous from an Ulster perspective.

“You’ve always got to be wary of Munster,” he warned.

“And when you think of what has happened to them in the past month (they lost heavily to Leinster, they lost to Northampton, they had a good win against Treviso and then they lost again to Edinburgh) they are going to want to get back on track.

“They’re going back to Thomond Park, where they’re very, very strong, so I am under no illusions about what we’re going to face down there.

“It will be a very confrontational Munster side so it’s going to be a very hard game.”

As is his wont, McLaughlin has told his players to forget about last weekend’s heroics against Leinster and, instead, concentrate on this fresh challenge.

“Enjoy the moment but then move on,” is his philosophy. By Monday morning, last Saturday night was history.

Indeed, the coach’s only reference to it was to call for a reality check.

“While it was a good performance we’ve got to be very aware that Leinster had a few guys off last week. Certainly their front row wasn’t at full strength,” he said with the intention of keeping Ulster feet firmly on the ground.

“I’m not taking anything away from the win, but it’s important that we don’t start getting carried with ourselves.”

“This weekend is going to be different. We’re going to Thomond Park to face a Munster side that will be full-strength.

“Due to the IRFU way of doing things all of their international players are available to them this time so they’re all going to be there.”

None of this is designed to unnerve. But with McLaughlin’s big concern being that his players do not begin to wallow in what they have done and thereby losing sight of challenges still to be met, he is determined to ward of any complacency or self-congratulations.

Acknowledging that the wounded animal ace he played following Ulster’s Heineken Cup defeat by Edinburgh sparked such a positive response to Leinster’s visit, on this occasion McLaughlin turned the card table.

“Munster, at the moment, are wounded and we all know that when they are wounded they will demand — and they usually get — a big performance, particularly at Thomond Park,” he said.

Tellingly, the prospect does not appear to frighten him in the slightest. Quite the opposite.

“It’s going to be good for us. It’s going to be a good place to go, take them on and test ourselves.

“We had a good win in Limerick last year, though I suppose that just adds to the fire we can expect,” McLaughlin said with a hint of a smile.

“If you’d said to me at the start of September that we’d be where we are in the Magners League going into the autumn international series, I think I would have taken that.

“But it’s relentless. We have Munster in Limerick, followed by a short break, and then we have Glasgow at home followed by two really tight games against Stade Francais.

“When we come out of that we have two big ones against Leinster and Munster over Christmas.

“So it’s about us playing consistently at our best. That’s what will determine our season.”

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