Rugby: Humphreys has only got Ulster on his mind
Ulster fly-half Ian Humphreys is focused solely on winning tomorrow night’s battle with Leinster at the RDS (8pm).
Forget personal ambition or the chance of catching Ireland coach Declan Kidney’s eye. What Humphreys wants most is a victory that will take Ulster closer to their target of a home semi-final.
The Ireland Wolfhounds stand-off is dismissive of any suggestion that this inter-pro showdown gives him a golden opportunity to push his case.
“No, I don’t think so to be honest. I think that ship has sailed unless there’s injuries,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Listen, I’ve just enjoyed playing for Ulster this year. At the minute I understand that the other two (Jonny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara) are ahead of me and Paddy (Wallace) is back-up so unless there are a couple of injuries I don’t see myself getting involved in the set-up, much as I’d love to.
“Obviously everybody wants to play in a World Cup, but I’m not losing any sleep over it. I’m not giving it any thought.”
He is, however, giving considerable thought to the position in which Ulster now find themselves.
Comparing that to the situation 12 months ago he said: “Last year we were desperate for the wins to make sure we stayed above Connacht. This year is more about the type of games we want to be involved in.
“Obviously the European run is now over; we enjoyed it while it lasted but now it’s on to the Magners and that’s where the concentration has to be.
“Leinster will be a tough game; they’re coming off the back of a great win (against Leicester in the Heineken Cup quarter-final).
“But we know we’ve got the kind of team that when we play well together we can definitely push forward, match Leinster and hopefully pick the win up.”
Humphreys is keen to stress that few of the current Ulster players are carrying the baggage of the province’s poor record in Dublin, their last victory there having been 12 years ago.
“If you look at our squad there’s not many boys who have been around a long time here,” he points out. “There’s very few of us who are scarred by that so we go to Leinster thinking, ‘Well, why can’t we win?’
“It’s not a big burden on the team anymore, with so many of the young players and the foreigners coming through.
“We’re just going out there with a fresh mentality; anywhere we go it’s with the confidence of beating anybody we play.”
He insists there will be no significant post-Heineken Cup blues and no difficulty in Ulster getting themselves back up for what is going to be a huge test.
“It won’t be difficult to get up at all. At the end of the day it’s our job to get up for it and if we can’t then we shouldn’t be here.
“It’s a pretty easy game to get up for so it’s ideal for us that it is such a big game,” Humphreys says.
“No disrespect to others, but other teams it might have been more difficult to get up for. But whenever you’re playing another Irish province it’s pretty easy.”
He also feels the intensity of some of the one-to-one clashes adds an extra dimension, as does the possibility of a home match in the semi-finals.
“Top four, obviously, is the minimum we’re looking for but we’re all keen to push for the win this weekend and try and slot that second place.
“Obviously then, whenever you’re playing at home, you’re confident, regardless of who the opposition is,” he says.
“There’s no motivation required when you’re playing Leinster.
“We want to play against the strongest Leinster team possible.
“There’s a load of battles all across the pitch — Ruan (Pienaar) against either Bossy (Isaac Boss) or (Eoin) Reddan; Nev (Spence) up against whoever he’s up against in the centre; Paddy (Wallace) against (Gordon) D’Arcy.
“Everywhere you look there’s people playing against each other who — certainly on our team — will be really keen to put down a marker against the players who are ahead of them in the national set-up.
“It should be a big game all round.”