Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

We can match Ulster's quality, says Ledesma

Stern challenge: Mario Ledesma insists Montpellier can give Ulster a good game, despite not finding many defensive weaknesses

When Mario Ledesma sat down this week with his colossal Montpellier forwards to unpick the weaknesses in Ulster's defence, it was a relatively short meeting.

Montpellier's forwards coach has unbridled respect for Ulster and Irish rugby fostered from an 84-Test career with Argentina that spanned 15 years.

That has only been strengthened by carrying out his homework on Ulster ahead of tomorrow's crunch Heineken Cup tie at Stade Yves du Manoir on the Mediterranean.

Ledesma said: "Ulster is very interesting to study. It's great for the players and staff to prepare for this game. We have been watching their defence on video and it didn't take very long because there are not that many weaknesses in that defence.

"They have only conceded four tries in six games. Even against average opposition, that is amazing.

"So this will be a whole other level for us against virtually half of Ireland's team."

Ulster finally got the monkey off their back last season with a first victory in France, at Castres Olympique, at the 15th attempt. However this is set to be an utterly different proposition.

Montpellier have already got the better of Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont-Auvergne, by the staggering margin 43-3, at Yves du Manoir. And while Ledesma, a former hooker, rates Rory Best, he hinted Montpellier would target the Ulster scrum.

"Ulster made it to the final two years ago and signed up some big players. We also know they got a win in Castres so they can win big games away from home," he said.

"They are a quality team across the board. A good lineout with a great thrower (Best). Their scrum may not be the most powerful but they have clean ball. I would have loved to play against such a team. That's why I'm excited for the boys.

"No offence to Treviso (last week's opponents) but this is not the same level of opposition. We must be aware of their quality but also of the fact that we can match them."

As a player, Ledesma was an uncompromising competitor who, between Martin Scelzo and Rodrigo Roncero, were the bulwark to one of the most successful periods in Argentine rugby, that included reaching the World Cup semi-final in 2007, and ultimately led to their inclusion to the Rugby Championship.

Having played the majority of his rugby in France, he is now transforming the Montpellier pack into one of the most fearsome in Europe, a formidable outfit littered with behemoths throughout.

Yet the result tomorrow could dictate how they approach the rest of the tournament.

"To qualify for the final stages, you have to win your home games and get a few points here and there on your away games," he added.

"If we lose, things might get complicated. Here in France, all we have in mind is the Top 14. It comes before anything, even if the Heineken Cup is a bigger tournament when it comes to media exposure.

"For them (Ulster) it's the main competition, the focus for their season. The Celtic League level is average, and their real goal is the Heineken Cup."

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