Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Big Mac calls for home rule at fortress Ravenhill

A year ago the Ulster-Edinburgh Magners League meeting at Ravenhill finally gave the home supporters — and players — a much-needed boost.

Ulster went into the October 3, 2008 match in a pretty wretched state, having lost each of their first four Magners League matches.

The previous weekend in Swansea they had suffered their worst ever Magners League defeat, hammered 43-0 by Ospreys in what was a Liberty Stadium embarrassment.

So they were in serious need of a lift when they emerged to face Edinburgh with 8,418 Ravenhill patrons looking on. That, in itself, was a remarkable display of loyalty for although it followed hard on the heels of that all-time low point in Swansea, the attendance was better than that for the previous home game against Newport Gwent Dragons.

That’s loyalty.

Tonight’s scenario is very different and much better. It is Ulster’s first competitive outing on home soil and they go into it off the back of an excellent triumph, last season’s Swansea pasting having been amply avenged on Saturday evening past when they won 20-16 at Ospreys.

It should be quite a showdown. Ulster tails are up, Edinburgh come to Belfast as Magners League leaders and the new facilities will be in use for the first time. There should be a sizzling atmosphere.

As a result of last weekend’s heroics there is a weight of expectancy on the hosts’ shoulders and how they cope with that will be all-important.

The post-Ospreys confidence that has soared through them was palpable at this week’s training, albeit that it has been tempered with a realisation that one swallow does not make a summer. Coaching staff and players alike have all been saying the same thing; consistency is what counts and a points-earning performance is negated if the follow-up fixture yields no reward.

Head coach Brian McLaughlin hit the nail squarely on the head when he said: “The Ospreys performance was good, but now we have to get going again.

“We’re in a position where we have to back up the previous good result with another one. We got a good result at Worcester in the last of our pre-season matches, but didn’t back it up at Newport. So while we got a good result at Ospreys, if we don’t perform against Edinburgh I will be very disappointed.

“They have had two smashing results, two big wins. They’ve beaten Cardiff in Cardiff and last week they obliterated Connacht so they come to us looking very good and on a real high.

“They’ll come here looking to beat us at Ravenhill and we’ll be trying to put down a marker as well with the European Cup coming up. It’s vital for us to perform.

“All of the ingredients are there for a big night at Ravenhill, but it’s important that we don’t get distracted and that we stick to our guns.”

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