Ulster Rugby won't let up: Lewis Stevenson urges his side to dig deep or face wrath of Leinster
Published 24/12/2013 | 09:00
Despite the time of year, there is no slacking off for Ulster, who are going through their usual routines of preparation with Saturday's PRO12 trip to face Leinster in Dublin (kick-off at the RDS is 6.45pm) very much top of the squad's agenda.
And as if there wasn't enough motivation and desire for bragging rights feeding into this interprovincial clash – the first of two for Mark Anscombe's side with PRO12 leaders Munster at Ravenhill the following Friday – the ante has been upped after Leinster's shock defeat at Edinburgh last weekend, which has meant that Matt O'Connor's squad have somewhat unusually fallen to two straight defeats after previously being surprisingly turned over in Europe by Northampton Saints in Dublin.
And while Leinster will be gunning to halt this mini-losing run, the men in blue will also be conscious of the fact that they lost both regulation PRO12 meetings with Ulster last season with the last-minute win secured by Anscombe's players at the RDS last March – Ulster's first win over their hosts in Dublin for 14 years – proving to be a particularly sore point.
But Ulster also have plenty of reason to be up for this encounter with the memory of last May's PRO12 final still reasonably fresh, when Leinster triumphed to secure the final part of their European and domestic double on that sunny afternoon at the RDS when those from all parts northern were shown, yet again, that they still have some distance to travel when it comes to getting their hands on silverware.
Second row Lewis Stevenson wasn't involved at last season's league final showdown but he was on Ulster's bench at their previous encounter two months earlier, when the visitors held on for that memorable 22-18 victory in Leinster's backyard.
"That was a huge win for us and shows that we can go down there and win," the 29-year-old said.
"When you play any of the southern sides it's always a huge week and you can see the excitement and it is really a bragging rights thing.
"They are almost like Heineken Cup quarter and semi-finals because of the buzz and energy during the week and everyone just feeds off each other," Stevenson, who returned from a knee injury with a big performance for Ulster in last Friday night's win over Zebre, added.
"We are going to be expecting a reaction from them," he said referring to their two defeats on the bounce.
"Leinster are one of the best sides in Europe so there will be a big reaction and we are going to have to face that and just deal with it on the day. It's always a massive physical contest but we just want to go and beat them.
"To do that we have to front up, we can't go and underestimate them. We have to get stuck into them."
Though both sides are likely to be without some of their frontline internationals, Stevenson still feels that Leinster can put out a more than decent second-string to challenge anyone in the league.
"Regardless of who is playing, we'll be up against it and they have a lot of good second rows," he said with presumably more than a nod in the direction of veteran Leo Cullen.
"No disrespect to Zebre, but Leinster are a total different breed so we are going to have to really front up or we'll be on the receiving end of a hiding."
"Leinster have the whole range of plays, they can be in your face, they can go out wide and they have a lot of options," Stevenson stated.