Ulster craving derby double
Assistant coach Jeremy Davidson wants Ulster to build on their back to back Heineken Cup wins over Bath by defeating rivals Leinster at Ravenhill on Monday.
Ulster are fifth in the table but, with two big derbies over the Christmas and New Year period, they can’t afford to slip up if they are to keep their ambitions of a top four league finish alive.
“These games are very important for Leinster, Munster and ourselves because we are all pushing towards the top of the Magners League,” said Davidson.
“We very much want to stay alive in both competitions so it's very important in this transition week from Heineken Cup to Magners League that we don't take our foot off the pedal.
“We have to push forward and get two good results out of the next two games. “Leinster have gone very well beating Clermont at home last week and nearly beating them away when they got a bonus point so they will be coming to Ravenhill full of confidence and we have to remain focused on the task in hand.
“We are very focused and have had some good training sessions and we are building towards the game on Monday.”
Ulster will be without their Ireland players for the game with Leinster but, as they showed at the weekend, there is a lot of strength in depth in the squad as they beat Bath at The Rec without captain Rory Best and British Lion Stephen Ferris and Davidson believes it's an opportunity for other players to lay down a marker.
“In professional rugby now you have to have a strong squad, we have a few players missing but it's a chance to look at our strength in depth, it's an opportunity to rotate and get some freshness in.
“It's unfortunate not to be at full strength, but it also gives the coaches a chance to look at the younger players and a chance for them to play and show what they are capable of.”
“It's a good time to rotate the squad because the two Bath games took a lot out of us as individuals and collectively.
“It's going to be difficult to play Leinster and then have a quick turn around and go to Limerick but everybody has remained focused and the confidence is high.
“Winning in Bath shows the continual improvement of the team.
“Last year was our first win on English soil and this year we were able to replicate that, it shows the squad is growing in terms of experience and nous to come back after being behind in both fixtures, to work really hard and dog it out and get two victories.”
Davidson has hailed the experience the summer signings have brought to Ulster especially in the two tight finishes against Bath.
“It helps having that element of experience coming into the side and I think everybody has improved,” added Davidson.
“Everyone looks towards the leaders and I think Johann Muller has been a fantastic leader in Rory's absence.
Winger Craig Gilroy comes into the squad — he has scored four tries in two appearances for Brian McLaughlin's side but had to sit out both Bath encounters as he wasn't registered for the Heineken Cup.
Ulster are still confident of staging the game despite the Ravenhill pitch currently being covered in six inches of snow.
It's acting as an insulator, however, and the pitch is perfectly playable in its current state, though the concern is for the fans attending the game.
Heavy machinery will be employed over the next few days to scrape away the ice to make sure the terracing, walk ways and car park are all accessible.
Meanwhile, Brian McLaughlin’s men will play host to Biarritz in their crucial Heineken Cup clash on Saturday, January 15 at 3.30pm.
The away trip to Aironi will be played seven days later, with the action getting underway in Viadana at 1.30pm