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Nick Timoney excited to have home comforts as resurgent Ulster prepare for derby date with Munster

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Shake on it: Ulster’s Eric O’Sullivan celebrates at the final whistle with Iain Henderson. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Shake on it: Ulster’s Eric O’Sullivan celebrates at the final whistle with Iain Henderson. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Ulster’s Nick Timoney. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Ulster’s Nick Timoney. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

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Shake on it: Ulster’s Eric O’Sullivan celebrates at the final whistle with Iain Henderson. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

It really all felt just that little bit, well, frustrating.

They had got the job done in earning the home URC quarter-final, but a bonus point had gone missing against the Sharks on Friday night and then there was that very ragged finish which could have even turned the result.

It meant that Ulster sat in a rather unconvincing looking second as we moved into Saturday and yet that finish could so nearly still have been theirs which, in turn, would have lined up the valuable reward of a home semi should they navigate their way through the quarter-final stages.

Basically, had the Scarlets held out for a draw against the Stormers early on Saturday evening – they coughed up a fourth try in the 79th minute – then thanks to how affairs subsequently unfolded at the Aviva Stadium with Munster failing against a watered-down Leinster, Dan McFarland’s squad would have maintained their place as runners up and been hosting Edinburgh in next week’s quarters and not Johann van Graan’s side.

Anyway, it’s all done and dusted now and, in truth, the real damage to Ulster’s hopes of ending up second were shipped before last weekend’s final round of regular season matches with its various head-scratching scenarios in play.

And so, Ulster have ended up in third and host Munster who began the weekend in second but who finished down in sixth.

Should Ulster get over the line against their Irish rivals who won here last month in the wake of the Ravenhill squad’s damaging leaving of Europe by the narrowest of margins to Toulouse, then it’s time to pack the bags for a semi-final via either a long haul to Cape Town or short hop to Edinburgh.

And that’s where not ending up second will smart, though it is well worth recalling Ulster were only robbed of victory at the Stormers at the end of March due to a wrong refereeing call and more recently became the first team to win at Edinburgh’s new stadium.

First, though, there is the quarter-final and that nervy end to the Sharks game will likely have done Ulster no harm at all as they prepare for what is sure to be a colossally charged interpro while Munster have to bounce back from their agonising penalty shoot-out exit to Toulouse and then last weekend’s just as frustrating loss to Leinster whose gaze was always firmly on this weekend’s Champions Cup final.

Though they’ll never admit it, Ulster know that this impending Irish derby ought to be theirs.

Momentum, belief and home advantage should be enough of a combination though looking damaged as well as being underdogs will naturally suit Munster well enough and should they have the totemic Peter O’Mahony back, and even Tadhg Beirne, then they could make valuable contributions towards rescuing Van Graan’s final season.

Ulster will have their own worries after Michael Lowry was forced off on Friday with what appeared to be a nasty head injury and will be hoping not to have to deploy either Ethan McIlroy or Stewart Moore away from their more natural positions.

Losing Lowry would be a huge blow but Ulster have so many other players in prime form with Nick Timoney, Stuart McCloskey, James Hume, Marcus Rea, McIlroy and Rob Baloucoune all looking so sharp even in the closing stages of the season.

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“It’s a home quarter-final which is a good place to be,” said Timoney.

“It’s huge for the club and just getting another game for the fans and a play-off game is huge for us just in terms of the momentum about the place and the buzz.”

And referencing the must-wins Ulster have produced both against the Sharks and the game before at Edinburgh, the 26-year-old back-rower reckons Ulster are in a good place after the losses in South Africa and the home defeats to Toulouse and Munster.

“Hopefully our belief in the game we play will be stronger off the back of that because we have seen where it can go wrong, and we had to drag ourselves back.

“I mean the pressure is still on as a quarter-final is must-win so I guess it’s good to get a couple of games practice where we know we have to win (and did).

“The trend hopefully looks like it’s upwards going into the play-offs."

And the approach for next week and Munster again?

“There’s an intensity that comes with play-offs but in my mind you’re trying to win every game in the season so there’s no point ripping up the playbook when you get to the quarter-finals.

“You just try to back up what you’ve been doing all season and hope you get the job done.

“Sometimes you don’t overthink it too much. It’s just a game of rugby and you just back that the stuff you do every week is going to put you on top.”

Anyway, all that matters now is winning another Irish derby.


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