Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's hopes of PRO12 title glory are on the line, insists Neil Doak

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster coach Neil Doak has warned his players that Leinster will carry the intensity from their European campaign into tomorrow night's PRO12 contest at the Kingspan Stadium.

Matt O'Connor's men suffered an excruciatingly narrow 25-20 extra-time defeat to Toulon in their Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday and, despite the short turnaround from that admittedly dour affair, Doak feels the bruising encounter will have Leinster firing on all cylinders with their season on the line.

"The advantage they have is, that having played such a big game, they know the level of intensity that they need to bring," opined the head coach.

"We saw what Leinster can deliver on Sunday. For 100 minutes they went toe to toe with Toulon and we know how difficult a side they have been this season.

"It's a top European game, no matter that it's in the PRO12, so the intensity that was brought out on Sunday will be tenfold.

"We can't afford to be off in our intensity or our accuracy. We need to be disciplined and get in the game early.

"We know that Leinster can score points very quickly and, as Jamie (Heaslip) said post-match, they're not afraid to go away from home and deliver."

With Ulster having not played since the bonus-point win over Connacht on April 11, Leinster are up against a fresh squad, having themselves lost both Martin Moore and Fergus McFadden to injury at the weekend, for what is now a game they need to win to maintain their chances of a play-off place.

Doak believes, however, that Ulster's southern neighbours have plenty of depth to overcome both injuries and fatigue.

"They'll have a few sore bodies but they've got a quality side and a quality squad," he said.

"They may rotate a few but we know whatever side they bring up is going to be a quality side. We're going to have to play very well to compete with them and ultimately look to beat them.

"They can change their front row, back row and halfbacks and be bringing in internationals.

"They've got a lot of quality and a lot of experience, guys who have been members of European Cup winning squads.

"We know it's going to be tough," he said.

Having struggled with player availability for much of the season, Doak has the luxury of a settled pool to choose from.

While Irish internationals Andrew Trimble and Stuart Olding are missing for the year, and Nick Williams banned until next season, centre Darren Cave is Doak's only fitness doubt for the team that will be named this afternoon.

"He's done a couple of training sessions so we'll see how he reacts and hopefully he should be there or thereabouts come Friday," Doak said.

Should Cave, who started at inside centre with Jared Payne in the 13 jersey last time, be absent then Doak has two ready made replacements in Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall who is available again after a five week ban.

Louis Ludik - who became a father for the first time last week - has trained fully after a rib injury sustained at the Sportsground and is fit to take part.

Belfast Telegraph


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