Ulster are 'so hungry' to see off Leinster and reach European semi-finals, promises McFarland
Few outside the nine counties are giving Ulster much of a chance in this evening's Champions Cup quarter-final meeting with Leinster (5.45pm kick-off) but head coach Dan McFarland says his side are not merely heading to the Aviva to soak up the occasion.
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Having already exceeded expectations by making it this far in the competition, Ulster are as long as 15-point underdogs to continue their European journey, facing the side who last season secured a Champions Cup and PRO14 double.
While the two sides that will do battle today began the campaign with decidedly different ambitions, having reached the same point in the last weekend of March, McFarland believes the motivation to advance is felt just as keenly.
"If you compare us with Leinster, they will have definitely set out to hold on to the trophy that they won so well last year," he said. "In terms of what we were doing that was probably not as strong a goal, our first goal was to get out of our pool.
"But then if you are asking professional sports people or a professional team, or if you are asking me, whether you are happy once you are here, absolutely not.
"Once you are in a quarter-final you are so hungry so if we lose, our disappointment will not be any less than Leinster's disappointment."
After a fractious campaign last time around, McFarland appears to have won back a large number of previously dissenting supporters.
Since arriving on the eve of the season after a delayed departure from the SRU, the former Connacht man has repeatedly preached his side will play with a 'fight for every inch' mentality but admits it takes more than fight to beat a side of Leinster's quality.
"That attitude is only a foundation. It's something you can build on," he said.
"That on its own does not win a quarter-final away to Leinster. It's as simple as that. It has to be there, it will be there. But it has to be more than that.
"We'll need some of our best play in our defence to slow down the speed of their attack. And in terms of our attacking intent, we'll have to make sure we hold onto the ball, we'll have to make sure we're incisive in terms of breaking them down.
"The effort and fight for every inch mentality has to be a given, then we'll have other stuff on top of that."
While Bath were not able to get a victory of their own in the pool stage, their performance in slowing Leinster's ball at the Rec in December has been cited on occasion as the best way to knock the tournament favourites from their stride.
In Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee and Rory Best, Ulster have plenty of players who relish getting over the ball and slowing things down.
"I think the big thing to come out of that is when Leinster play with consistently fast ball you are in trouble," noted McFarland.
"You can get knocked down and not be able to get back up. That is a risk for any side playing against Leinster.
"One of the things we will have to be able to do is slow down the pace of their play. How we go about that, well Bath did it by having two opensides going after the breakdown, whether we do that remains to be seen."
The breakdown is clearly on the mind of both coaches. In his own pre-match press conference at the Aviva Stadium Leinster's Leo Cullen made reference to referee Romain Poite and Ulster's star Springbok Coetzee.
"Marcell Coetzee can cause us a lot of problems at the breakdown if we allow him the space or the referee isn't entirely diligent where he's got his elbows on the ground and still winning penalties," said Cullen.
With Johnny Sexton injured, the Leinster captaincy will fall to flanker Rhys Ruddock who said his side have "great faith" that the Frenchman will ensure a fair contest at the breakdown.
"He's one of the best referees in the world so we are hoping he will be in line with what we have seen from him in the past," said the Irish international.
"Just for us, we always try to arrive in the space early to deal with the threat early and not give him a decision to make whether someone is on their elbows or on their feet, taking it out of his hands with the actions we produce ourselves is the message for us.
"We have great faith in the way he adjudicates the game. Obviously we have looked at some of the games and some of the trends and just having momentum in our game is going to be important as well and just making sure that we are looking like the dominant side and not giving a window of opportunity for some of their poachers, which they have across the whole pack.
"He is good at communicating anyway. We had him in the Wasps game earlier this year and he will communicate to you.
"So if he thinks you are illegal in your actions he will try to give you a chance to get out of there.
"Being aware of that and being able to cue each other up will be important if you are going to go for a poach, same on the opposite side of the ball."