McLaughlin sure his team can go where no-one has gone before
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin exuded calm as he announced his 34-strong provisional squad for Sunday’s all-important meeting with Munster in Limerick.
He came across as a man who has genuine faith in his side’s ability to do what no team has ever done previously — namely beat Munster at Thomond Park in a Heineken Cup quarter-final.
Stade Francais (twice), Biarritz, Perpignan, the Ospreys and Northampton Saints have all tried and failed. If Ulster succeed, it will be some achievement.
Yet everything about McLaughlin suggests he really believes his team can do it.
He is not gung-ho, there is no loose talk. He is clever in his use of psychology. In admitting that the hosts’ lacklustre RaboDirect PRO 12 performance against Leinster, who beat them 18-9 at Thomond Park on Saturday night, “gives us confidence”, he was prompt to qualify that.
“But you’ve also got to realise the Munster psyche as well. They’ll be smarting, they’ll be hurting and they’ll be wanting to make sure that we suffer because of it,” he warned.
“We’re under no illusions. There’s a lot at stake for both teams so we have to go down there and match and beat their physicality because certainly that’s where they’re going to be coming at us.”
His three-year tenure as Ulster coach may be coming to an end, but McLaughlin is as full of passion now as at any stage.
Asked if he could see his side beating Paul O’Connell and his men on Sunday, he replied: “I can, yes. I think that’s what we have been building for in the past three years.
“Last year we were delighted just to be going to Northampton,” he reflected, suggesting that just getting out of the Pool for the first time since 1999 had, subconsciously, amounted to attainment of the Holy Grail. Now a year older, wiser and hungrier, no longer are they quarter-final tourists there for the view.
“This year we want to go down to Munster and show that we can go further,” McLaughlin stressed.
“We’ve got to show that we’re capable of beating any team in Europe,” he said.
“The past three years have been about us improving, getting better, taking time to make sure that we get everything right and then taking another step forward.
“We’re in a great position now to take that step and we’re very hopeful when we go to Munster on Saturday (lunch-time flight) that we can do that.
“We’ve climbed a lot of hurdles, we’re still moving forward and we believe that we’re in the best shape possible to go down there and get a result.”