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Schmidt eyes Ulster hat-trick at fortress RDS

Having, in the vernacular, been 'blown away' in the opening 15 minutes of each of this season's Magners League meetings with Leinster, Ulster know that if they are to have any chance of making the May 28 Grand Final they cannot allow any repeat of those horror shows tonight (7.05).

Not surprisingly, having been beaten 30-13 at Ravenhill on December 27 and 34-26 at the RDS on April 16, Ulster go into tonight's Ballsbridge semi-final as rank outsiders.

It was Leinster No 8 Sean O'Brien who made it a blue, blue post-Christmas for Ulster by powering through twice in the first 15 minutes. Isa Nacewa converted both tries, opening up a 14-0 lead. Game over.

In last month's re-match at the RDS, Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss and wings Luke Fitzgerald and Shane Horgan all touched down in the first 15 minutes. Goodnight Ulster once again.

On each occasion Ulster had gone into the fixture in an optimistic mindset.

On each occasion it was over as a contest before the end of the first quarter. Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin is determined there will be no hat-trick of opening stage disasters and knowing that to be the case his Leinster counterpart, Joe Schmidt (right), is warning his side against complacency.

The tag of favourites is one of which he is wary. And he admits that the distraction of a Heineken Cup final eight days later is a potential banana skin.

"There is a risk of taking your eye off the ball because of the Heineken Cup final the following week, but we have to take each game as it comes," Schmidt says.

"It is imperative to concentrate on this game and not to look too far ahead. We haven't conceded a match all season at the RDS and we are very focused on continuing that record."

Schmidt lost three French Championship finals before winning his first at the fourth attempt in 2010. The pain of those memories has driven him throughout his first season at the Leinster helm. A Heineken Cup final spot and a place in the last four of the Magners League suggest he is getting things right.

There is no room whatsoever for smugness in his camp, however. "At this stage it is only about managing two games, because we don't know if we will make it into the Magners League Grand Final," he said.

"The difference about playing Ulster now is there is something at stake because it is a knockout situation."

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