Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has admitted that his side will pay a heavy price if they make the same sort of start as has been the case in each of their past two Magners League meetings with Leinster.
Having lost 34-26 at the RDS as a result of a disastrous opening quarter which saw them concede 17 points in fewer minutes on April 16, he knows Friday night’s return will have to go a whole lot better than four weeks ago if they are to reach the Magners League Grand Final showdown against the winners of Saturday’s Limerick clash between Munster and defending champions, Ospreys.
Ulster’s Ravenhill meeting with Leinster on December 27 was another which was over as a contest early on as a result of the visitors’ blitzkrieg opening en route to a facile 30-13 victory.
Then, too, Ulster were blown out of the water by Leinster’s high-tempo start.
Indeed, Ulster have lost each of their past three inter-pro battles with Leinster and last beat their Irish rivals in October 2009.
It is a 75 per cent failure rate McLaughlin is keen to improve. But if Ulster are to do that, they must not hand Leinster a spade with which to dig their grave.
“If we go down to Leinster and we give them cheap possession and turn it over easily we’re going to be back in the same boat we’ve already been in twice this season,” McLaughlin warned.
Recalling Ulster’s most recent Magners League joust with the Heineken Cup finalists the coach was honest enough to concede: “Last time at the RDS it was over after 25 minutes. In the second half we came back well but we were playing catch-up.”
He knows that while Leinster may well have one eye on their European Cup showdown against Northampton Saints the following weekend at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, that is unlikely to distract Joe Schmidt’s double-chasing team too much.
“They want to win both; they’ve made no bones about that,”
McLaughlin warned. “But we want to go down there and give a good account of ourselves because we feel we haven’t done that against Leinster this season.
“We want to perform because we haven’t done ourselves justice against Munster or Leinster this season.
“Leinster are a very good rugby side, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve all said it — at the minute they’re probably the best side in Europe,” McLaughlin admitted.
He conceded he does not know what to expect when it comes to Leinster’s starting line-up.
“I don’t know what their psyche will be, whether they’ll turn out at full force or with half a team.
“But in our opinion that doesn’t matter; we’ve just got to go there and do our thing,” he said.
He is anticipating a wholly-committed approach by Leinster given what is up for grabs; they are aiming for an unprecedented Heineken Cup-Magners League double, after all.
But Ulster are highly motivated, too, home and away defeats by both Leinster and Munster being blights on their season.
If they are to win at the RDS, however, they must buck convention. Their last win in Dublin was 12 years ago in 1999.
While McLaughlin cannot be held accountable for events before his arrival in the summer of 2009, he takes full responsibilty for results since then.
“We haven’t done well at the RDS. We lost there last year and again this year,” he said.
“But we feel that this weekend we’ve got an opportunity. We’re in a Magners semi-final, which is where we want to be.
“It’s a huge bonus for us and we’re going down there not just to make up the numbers.
“We’re going there to show that we can play rugby,” he promised.