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Ulster aiming to box clever on road

By Ciaran Donaghy

As weekends go, Ulster couldn’t have suffered a worse one on or off the pitch as they faced Stade Francais in Pool Four of the Heineken Cup.

Delays hampered the team as they flew to Brussels on Friday night, the match in the Belgian capital failed two pitch inspections before everyone had to pack up and move to Paris.

When the action finally got underway Ulster produced another one of the Jekyll and Hyde performances that have plagued their season.

Brian McLaughlin’s men now turn their attention to the race for a top four finish in the Magners League with a date against Leinster at the RDS on Boxing Day.

Four points cover the top seven teams in the league with Ulster slipping to seventh following the home defeat by Glasgow in their last outing.

Ulster’s last win in Dublin against Leinster came in August 1999 during the inter-pro series with Simon Mason scoring a try, three penalties and two conversions, Tyrone Howe chipped in with the other try and David Humphreys landed a drop goal while Barry Everitt kicked five penalties for the home side.

Leinster are third, a point behind leaders Glasgow, and coach McLaughlin will be keen to avoid the horror show Ulster suffered the last time the teams met on Boxing Day at the RDS when Leinster ran out 29-0 winners.

“Leinster at the RDS, European champions it’s a smashing opportunity for us to learn from the things we didn’t do well in the Stade game and to try and improve on them,” said a positive McLaughlin.

“That is what professional rugby is all about, you’ve got to look at what you did well and what you did poorly and you’ve got to improve week by week. We did some good things in Paris but until we get that consistency away from home we’ve just got to keep trying until we get it going.”

Leinster are starting to hit form after a disrupted start to the season and despite missing Irish duo Johnny Sexton and Luke Fitzgerald, their all-star back line is firing again as they put seven tries on the Scarlets last Saturday with Rob Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy getting two apiece and Shane Horgan touching down for the other.

The coach knows that Ulster will have to up their performance if they want to repeat their Ravenhill win over Leinster despite having a day less to prepare due to the disruption caused by the Stade game.

“We gave away two soft tries from mauls and they came at us with their pack and forced errors and turnovers which cost us dear. We gave away penalties due to a lack of discipline and we weren’t tight enough round the maul.”

Apart from a few cuts and bruises due to the nature of the hard pitch in Paris, Ulster came through the game without any injuries and everyone should be fit for selection for the weekend.

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