No old pals act as Ulster coach McLaughlion aims to smash inter-pro hoodoo
Brian McLaughlin does not need to be reminded that Ulster have not beaten a fellow-Irish province in this season’s Magners League.
Home and away defeats by Munster and Leinster plus a draw with Connacht in Galway are blights on a campaign now approaching its climax.
But if those results cause the Ulster coach pain, spare a thought for Eric Elwood, his Connacht counterpart.
The westerners have not won at Ravenhill since November, 1960.
Currently, however, Connacht are eighth in the field of 12 and on course for their best-ever finishing position. A hat-trick of second-bottom finishes then having given way to a trio in which they have been rock-bottom, Connacht’s delight with this term’s improvement is wholly understandable.
Ulster cannot afford to let their friends start rewriting history tomorrow at Ravenhill (7.05pm).
This is the penultimate match of the league race-proper, after which the top four go forward to fight it out for the title.
If Ulster are to qualify they must account for Connacht and then beat the Dragons in Newport.
McLaughlin is highly respectful of what Elwood and Connacht have achieved this season.
“They’re playing a lot more rugby than they used to but they’re still very aggressive and very physical so if we don’t turn up they’ll cause us problems,” he said.
“If we fall below our optimum level, then we struggle. But if we’re at our best we can beat the best so that’s what we’ll be looking to do tomorrow night.
“It’s our last game (of the season) at Ravenhill and the boys have a point to prove so we’re looking forward to getting out there and doing our job well.”
When it was suggested it might not be Ulster’s last game of 2010/11 at Ravenhill, the coach smiled as he said: “Okay, it might not be.”
But there was a notable lack of conviction; in his heart of hearts McLaughlin knows last weekend’s first-half capitulation to Leinster, almost certainly, has cost his side a chance of a home tie should they make the semi-finals. Instead it is likely they would be heading to Thomond Park or the RDS.
His take on tomorrow night’s clash was: “It’s an inter-pro and we’ll be up for it. We’re at Ravenhill and we want to perform.”