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Spence: We want more than just a semi-final

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Ulster's Nevin Spence with Connacht's Bernie Upton

Ulster's Nevin Spence with Connacht's Bernie Upton

©William Cherry/Presseye

Ulster's Nevin Spence with Connacht's Bernie Upton

Nevin Spence could be forgiven for believing that some benign being has been showering him with stardust this season.

No sooner had he collected the Irish Rugby Union Players Association's Young Player of the Year Award than he found himself being handed the Vodafone-sponsored Ulster Rugby equivalent. Huge double at the start of a big week.

The season has just gone on getting better and better. If all goes to plan tonight, that could just continue. Certainly Spence is hoping that will be the case.

"One of our goals at the start of the season was to be in the last four of the Magners League, but now that we're there, we're not happy with that.

"So from our point of view, the pressure is still very much on.

"We're going into the game against Leinster as underdogs, but sometimes that tag suits us. Hopefully we can get the right result," he says.

His view of tonight's mammoth test in Dublin is that if Ulster can stick with the favourites until half-time, they could be in business.

"If we can do that, then I think we'll have an opportunity to beat them," Spence ventures.

"They play with great intensity and they play a high-tempo game so it's up to us to match that."

However, he knows as a result of what happened on Ulster's last trip to the RDS, just how badly things can go wrong if Leinster are allowed to take control of the game early on.

"At one point it was becoming almost embarrassing," is his recollection of April 16, when the hosts ran in three early tries to go 17-3 up on their way to an eventual 34-26 win.

"We were going under the posts (for the conversion) for the third time in 10 or 15 minutes and I don't ever want to let that happen again," he says.

Ulster themselves made a similar sort of all-action opening last Friday night against the Dragons in Newport and Spence is hoping for a similar nought-to-60-in-a-blink start tonight.

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"It's up to us to bring that sort of consistency to our play," he agrees, "though obviously this is a different challenge.

"The Dragons are a different team to Leinster but it was a dress rehearsal, I suppose, given that we were away from home."

As with everyone else in the Ulster camp, young Spence displays the utmost respect in his assessment of tonight's opponents.

"They're in the Heineken Cup final and that shows the calibre of their team. In my opinion they're one of the best - if not the best - teams in Europe at the minute and I'd say they will continue to be for quite a few years to come.

"But at the start of the season we said we wanted to be in big games against big teams and they don't come much bigger than this for us," he says.

Spence admits that the pace at which his circumstances have changed has come as a surprise. - from Ballynahinch to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and the last four of the Magners League.

"Things turned in the space of a couple of months and I guess I haven't really got a chance to stop and think about it yet," he says.

"Hopefully there's another couple of weeks left in the season for us and I'll think about it after that."

With the World Cup looming in September, Spence's many fans and well-wishers reckon he could just force his way on to the New Zealand-bound plane.

The fair-haired centre smiles on hearing himself described as "a little dark horse".

"I'd say I'd be nothing more than a dark horse," he replies. "It's an outside chance and that's all it is. From my point of view, I'll just concentrate on Ulster first."

Tonight, though, could be another huge double in the form of helping Ulster beat Leinster - with Irish coach Declan Kidney watching on.


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