Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Let’s claim Ospreys scalp, says Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin

Brian McLaughlin is not begrudging when it comes to acknowledging rivals’ abilities and achievements.

So it comes as no surprise to hear the Ulster coach lauding tonight’s opponents.

“Ospreys are the champions and as champions they’re a very good team.

“They have a smashing squad with quality individuals in every position,” he says.

It’s pretty much what one might expect of a man of McLaughlin’s generous disposition and gracious nature.

His follow-up line was more telling, however.

“We really couldn’t have asked for a better opening match to test ourselves,” he adds.

No better opening match? No hint of fear in that assessment.

Rather than having misgivings he is relishing tonight’s challenge and clearly looking forward to pitting himself and his players against Sean Holley and his team.

“It would be a tremendous scalp if we were to beat Ospreys, though we’re a couple of top guns short so that won’t be easy,” he points out.

He knows the importance of home advantage in what — with a dozen teams involved — promises to be the toughest Magners League series ever.

“If we’re to do well in this league we’ve got to perform, especially at home,” he said.

Speaking earlier this week the coach admitted that he had some tough calls, not least in deciding on his back three.

Yesterday’s lunch time team announcement confirmed that he had opted for three Magners League debutants in full-back Adam D’Arcy and wingers Tommy Seymour and David McIlwaine.

With Jamie Smith and Bryn Cunningham injured — the latter a long-term absentee — Ulster had no option tonight but to include on-trial D’Arcy who, at the time of writing, still had no contract having just made his debut against Leeds a week ago.

The young wingers start because Andrew Trimble and Simon Danielli are injured, too.

With Ospreys having vastly experienced, richly talented performers like Shane Williams and Lee Byrne waiting in reserve, Ulster’s inexperienced back trio can expect to face a thorough examination.

But if they are to make a winning start at the expense of the champions, they must deny Ospreys a Ravenhill hat-trick.

The Welsh have won each of their past two matches here.

That said, tonight’s Ospreys line-up is far short of full strength. They start with only five of those who began against Leinster in the 2010 Magners League Grand Final back in May.

Centre Andrew Bishop, fly-half Dan Biggar and Kiwi flankers Jerry Collins and Marty Holah — with the former of that pair named as captain — are retained, as is Jonathan Thomas.

He partnered Alun-Wyn Jones in the engine-room in the RDS showdown but on this occasion he packs down at No 8.

With such quality on the bench Ospreys are not going to restrict men like Williams, Byrne, Huw Bennett and Paul James to a spectating role. Those four started in the Magners Cup Grand Final-winning side just over three months ago and it’s odds-on that they will be deployed at some stage tonight.

Both sides know the importance of a winning start if they are to get their season up and running on a positive note.

Ospreys’ target is to retain the title and a place in history as the first team ever to achieve that. Ulster’s goal is to deliver a statement of intent by lowering the colours of the defending champions and, by so-doing, sending out a message that Fortress Ravenhill is a place where visitors can expect to lose.

What a fillip that would be.

Let battle commence.

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