Pressure all on 'fresh' Ulster says Munster coach but visitors will be 'up for it'
Having effectively conceded a walkover to Leinster on Boxing Day, Ulster will be keen to ensure their enforced gamble pays off against Munster at Ravenhill tomorrow night.
Needlessly handicapped by a ridiculous four-day turnaround, both teams will be without their Irish contingent for the sold-out clash in a timely expression of the ongoing IRFU/provincial spat.
For their part, forced to contend with a full-strength Connacht on Monday, Tony McGahan's Munster side will be weakened still further by the Irish national camp taking place in Carton House.
Already reeling from the IRFU's decision to hastily ramrod through their proposals on player succession, Munster will have faced the stiffest of all provincial tasks in this festive period.
"We've a few guys who will come back into contention for Ulster which will be interesting given the team they put out against Leinster," says McGahan through gritted teeth.
"They're lying in wait for four points against us I suppose, so it will be a big challenge."
Captain Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan, Dave O'Callaghan, Conor Murray, Ronan O'Gara and Keith Earls are all missing for Munster while Ulster, so reliant on their South African contingent, will be expected to cope better without Tom Court, Andrew Trimble, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris.
"It's a big ask," continues McGahan. "We'll have our own thought process on that. They've obviously put their 'A' side out against Leinster and held back their first XV, apart from one or two national players.
"It's a huge task for us with a fresh side waiting for us. But we'll relish that opportunity. The side we put out will be well up for it."
Hence, the pressure is on Ulster - currently languishing in eighth place in the league, 12 points behind Munster - as captain Johann Muller keenly appreciates: "For this match I won't have to say too much," says Muller, who will again partner Dan Tuohy at lock.
"The game is against Munster, and it's at Ravenhill, so there is little motivating to do. There has been a great level of energy during training for those boys who had a week off and the buzz has been excellent.
"There is nothing like a week off to refresh the body and the mind. We know what's coming. Munster are an outstanding rugby team, but we are at home and we have a pretty good record there and we want to keep it that way.
"One of the things about Munster and Leinster over the past number of seasons is their consistency.
"Munster are a team that never says die. It is the one thing that I have learned since I came to Ireland. If they don't win, they always seem to get a losing bonus point. So consistency is a key word for them. And Ulster as a squad and a province must learn from them."