Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Rivalry with Leinster will always be intense: Leslie

Gary Leslie celebrates Ulster's European Cup win in 1999 with (from left) Justin Fitzpatrick, Allen Clarke and Ken Maginnis

Ulster legend Gary Leslie, a member of the side which won the European Cup 14 years ago, was staggered to learn that August 13, 1999 is the most recent example of his home province having beaten Leinster in Dublin.

"Seriously?" he said. "I'd no idea it was so long ago. That's hard to believe. Wow, we're going back a while there, aren't we?"

The story behind his involvement in Ulster's most recent success in the Irish capital is a throwback to a different era and mindset.

"It was August so actually I was on a family holiday in Clifden," he recalls. "I got the train from Galway to Dublin where I met up with the team at the Tara Towers for a pre-match lunch. After the game I'd to get across from the ground (Donnybrook) to Heuston Station to get the last train back up to Galway. Changed times," he muses.

Some things have not changed, however, among them the intense competitiveness of an Ulster-Leinster inter-pro.

As Leslie sees it, that rivalry will always be present when these old neighbours meet.

It began in 1875 and today, with the game enjoying a higher profile and generating greater sums of money than ever before, it has become even more intense.

If you lose today, more people than ever are aware of it. Pride is the spur, therefore.

"Even now, in the professional era, that's always there and you'll pick yourself up that wee bit extra for a game against big rivals," he stresses.

"It's a fact of life in professional sport, whatever it is. In football, look at Manchester United and Liverpool games. Even if one of them happen to be playing poorly they'll pick themselves up because of the momentum and intensity – the sheer rivalry – of that game.

"That's why Munster and Leinster have found Connacht so difficult to beat in the past. Connacht have always lifted themselves up for those inter-provincial games.

"All games are difficult, but an inter-pro has that wee bit more spice. It's a chance to settle a few scores where a guy is jockeying for an international position and maybe thinking that if his nose isn't quite fitting with the Dublin hierarchy at this stage, this is where he can prove or disprove one or two of the perceptions or theories."

His theory as to Leinster's phenomenal home record is: "Back in the 1990s they always had great individuals, but they never really were a united team. But at some stage in the late 90s they managed to get an identity and a team ethos where all the good individuals started playing together as a collective.

"They've also had a good team of players in terms of their longevity. They've had a very settled team for seven to eight years now."

So given all of that, how do you beat them?

"You have to make the right decisions when it matters and be able to react under that pressure," Leslie advises. "There are only going to be two or three moments in the game where their defensive pattern breaks down and then you have to take your chances.

"That's where the level of skill and mental toughness comes in. Chances will be very few and far between so, when you get them, you have to put them away."

And looking beyond the figurative RDS hedge into the Twickenham field and the April 6 Heineken Cup date with Saracens he adds: "Ulster certainly are good enough to beat Leinster down there.

"But it's a game we have to win in order to get our heads in the right place and our confidence back up for the big game the following week."

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