Belfast Telegraph

Ulster rugby star Craig Gilroy intending to change the record in PRO12 clash with Leinster

By Michael Sadlier

The sun is at its work, gloriously bathing the Kingspan pitch while also putting in a powerful bid to distract Craig Gilroy from his designated task of discussing tomorrow night's mighty clash with Leinster.

He has seated himself in the shade of the stand but the PRO12's current top try scorer - he has 10 to his name with Rhys Webb from the Ospreys one behind him - keeps glancing down at the turf and out to where, on one wing, a rather sizeable water sprinkler is doing its automated work.

It would have been apt if the area which had fallen under Gilroy's gaze was in and around the zone of his mesmerising score against the Scarlets in February - which has been nominated as a contender for the IRUPA's try of the year - but, unfortunately, that magical moment happened at the other end of the Kingspan.

So, another approach has to be deployed to bring the electrifyingly in-form Gilroy back on message but that proves to be less challenging than might be supposed once mention of Leinster is made.

Ah yes, Leinster. The side who prevented Ulster from winning the Heineken Cup in 2012 and the PRO12 title the following year while also ending their interest in the league at the semi-final stages in both 2011 and last year to bookend what has been a miserable record of key games against the southern province.

And tomorrow's visitors also happen to be the last side to have tasted PRO12 victory in Belfast, back in May 2014 at the new ground's official opening, when they held on to overcome a 14-man Ulster 22-20 after Tom Court had been sent off.

Gilroy has been involved in most of these season-defining games - he missed the 2013 final due to a groin problem - and he knows that it is high time Ulster changed the record. With only two wins in their last 13 meetings, that time is now and especially so with top four qualification assured should the home side take Leinster's scalp.

"They have been a bogey team," admits Gilroy, who has scored five tries in his last four games. "Hopefully on Friday we can have a good performance and we can really put them to bed.

"There have been times where we have looked the better team but haven't finished them off," he says, referring to recent clashes.

"That is probably where we have gone wrong and hopefully we can eradicate our mistakes and put that right.

"We'd love to come out and blow them off the park," the 24-year-old, who has already made over 100 appearances for Ulster - tomorrow will be his 106th - adds before erring on the side of greater diplomacy.

"But they are a very successful team and they have a lot of depth and have world class (players) in their ranks.

"They are a fantastic team, just look at their record in both competitions."

Still, it is hard to avoid this looking like a rather advantageous time to lock horns with Matt O'Connor's battered squad who had to go 100 minutes before narrowly losing to Toulon and exiting the Champions Cup on Sunday. That defeat in Marseille now means that just one more reverse should end Leinster's season and their hopes of making the PRO12's top four and holding on to the title.

The five-day turnaround between Leinster's season-defining encounters is also bound to weigh against them despite their strength in depth.

"It is a massive game for both teams and we're a bit safer (looking) than they are," he adds as Leinster - whose PRO12 form has been notably patchy - are already eight points adrift of fourth-placed Ospreys with just three games remaining.

"It is a huge game for them to target and you can't look past the fact that they played last weekend and they might be a bit sore. But whoever they bring up I'm sure will be raring to go."

Ulster, of course, had a week without a match after their hard-fought bonus-point win in Connacht to prepare for this potentially epic encounter.

"We had a good week last week and with no game it gave us a chance to work on a few things that we might have been restricted on when we have a game week," Gilroy said.

Again, Ulster's freshness must give them an edge at the Kingspan where Gilroy - who won the last of his six Irish caps against Georgia last November - will also hope to impress the watching national boss Joe Schmidt.

"The inter-pros are a good chance to put your hand up," he says. "One game won't change it for you, but it helps."

True, but taking Leinster down is really all that is consuming his thought process at the moment. And, yes, even the sunshine is secondary to that wish.

Edinburgh have announced that Michael Allen is to join them at the end of the season on a two-year contract.

The 24-year-old, who can play on the wing or at centre, said: "Edinburgh have played some brilliant rugby this year and shown the potential of being a very good side.

"I'm just looking forward to getting stuck in and trying to spring anything I can."

Pro12 League: Kingspan Stadium, Ulster v Leinster, Fri. 7.35pm (BBC).

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