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Forget O'Driscoll, Ulster can finish on high: Reidy

 

By Jonathan Bradley

As the Ulster players filter off the bus and into Thomond Park this afternoon, there'll no doubt be plenty of large headphones on show. In truth, they've been trying to blank out external noise all week.

Needing a bonus-point win over rivals Munster (5.35pm kick-off) to have any hopes of snatching a place in next week's Guinness PRO14 play-offs, the build up has once again been dominated by matters off the field.

Despite riding a three game winning streak into this final weekend, negative talk continues to swirl around the province in this most difficult of campaigns, with no less than Brian O'Driscoll grabbing the headlines this week with his description of the organisation as a "basket case."

The Irish legend is far from a lone voice. Ulster's players are no doubt weary of being asked about such critiques, some of them wholly justified, with Sean Reidy doing his best to ignore the chatter.

"Some of the rubbish that goes on in the media nowadays does no-one any good," said the flanker.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If that's the way he sees it, that's the way he sees it. Obviously as a group we don't see it that way.

"I've got nothing against Brian O'Driscoll. He can say what he wants. We're just focused on our own game and what we can do this weekend."

Despite finding themselves on front pages just as often as the back in recent weeks, it's a formula that has belatedly started to work of late, winning three straight games for a first time since September over the last three weeks.

The impressive victories over Edinburgh, Ospreys and Glasgow have been all the more surprising given the form that preceded them.

Jono Gibbes' men may well have left it too late to claim a play-off berth, but it's not so long ago that the very idea they'd still be alive going into this final round seemed far-fetched. It was after the loss to Cardiff at the end of last month that captain Rory Best gathered the squad and said it was time to draw a line in the sand.

"There was a lot of stuff going on off the pitch that we couldn't really control and it was just a case of refocusing our ideas and finding a way forward," said Reidy. "It's worked. We're under no illusions, they're going to be hurting after last weekend and it will take a solid performance, but there's no reason why we can't do it.

"We've put in three pretty good performances. Edinburgh were going really well before we went over there and we did a job on them.

"I'm sure three weeks ago you guys were thinking 'that's our season done' so it's nice to be a position where we can go and take something for ourselves.

"It's not going to be easy but look, we can take real confidence from those last three performances that we can go down and put in an 80 minute performance and we can get a result.

"We have momentum and it's been good to get back to winning ways. Little bounces of the ball are going our way and we are working hard for each other and I think it's showing out on the field.

"Those little bounces of the ball are going our way but there are things that aren't going well, but we're working hard to sort of rectify them and working hard for each other so that if we are knocking the ball on in the next phase we're trying to get that ball back as quickly as we can, so that's good to see."

Having suffered the heartbreak of a Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Racing 92 only six days ago, it is no surprise to see Munster make vast changes to their side.

With nothing on the line for them apart from derby day bragging rights, today's hosts have changed 14 from their starting line-up, with only former Ulsterman Sammy Arnold keeping his place from the loss in Bordeaux.

"Obviously they're coming off where they've been to South Africa and a European game," added Reidy. "So they might be having a few guys taking a rest but I've always enjoyed playing against Munster and it is a good challenge to see where you're at."

Ulster's own selection isn't without its problems either however. Once again, their depth at half-back will be tested. Having lost Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar over the past 12 months, their stocks have been depleted further ahead of this crucial contest with first-choice nine and player of the year candidate John Cooney missing out with concussion.

Charles Piutau is also missing due to a family matter, and could possibly have been seen for a last time ahead of his summer move to Bristol.

Craig Gilroy is back from suspension to replace the All Black, with Louis Ludik swapping into full-back, while Iain Henderson returns to the second-row having missed last week following the birth of his first child.

Captain Rory Best is another restored to the starting line-up having been used off the bench against Glasgow last week. So too Clive Ross after the Cork native impressed seven days ago when pressed into action after injury to Jean Deysel.

Dave Shanahan starts in place of Cooney, with the retiring duo of Paul Marshall and Tommy Bowe again on the bench.

Bradley’s Verdict

Ulster's preparation for this must-win game is hardly ideal having lost Jean Deysel, Charles Piutau and John Cooney through the week, while Thomond Park hasn't been a happy hunting ground for years. However, with their play-off hopes on the line, the visitor's need is far greater and that should prove telling.

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