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Ulster are all relishing the chance to dethrone European champions Leinster: Moore

Ulster v Benetton, Guinness PRO14 Championship, Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35 pm

By Jonathan Bradley

Given the make-up of the Ulster squad, Marty Moore won't have been alone in having mixed emotions while checking the rugby scores on Sunday.

With their job already done thanks to the 14-13 win over Leicester the day before which booked their Champions Cup quarter-final spot, it was a case of wait and see whether their last eight tie would be against Racing or, as ultimately proved to be the case, Moore's former side and defending champions Leinster.

"I have only played Leinster competitively once since I moved and that was a European Cup quarter-final (with Wasps), which unfortunately did not go the way you would have wanted on the day," he remembered.

"So hopefully this one in a few weeks' time can be a different story.

"Either way we kind of knew going in that it was going to be Racing again or Leinster. I think we know both sides pretty well at this stage of the season. We've played Racing twice and Leinster as well, we know them inside out as a playing squad and on a personal level.

"We would all relish the chance to get down to Dublin and put in a performance and see how we can come out of that and hopefully push on to a semi-final place."

Saturday was another good afternoon for Moore in an Ulster jersey, continuing the form that saw him mentioned by Joe Schmidt as a player on the radar despite missing out on the Six Nations.

But when new coach Dan McFarland gave Moore an off-season goal of involvements per minute that he is on the field, it's unlikely that try scoring was high on the agenda.

He got the important first score in Welford Road though, sparking a comeback he believes shows the steel injected into the squad this term.

"It shows a huge resilience in the squad and belief in what we can do," he said. "It is very easy for teams and individuals to knock off in those situations and think, 'This is almost impossible' or 'This is a lost cause away at Welford Road to the Tigers and having that sort of scoreline'.

"But no one questioned it for a second, we just got on with our jobs and it was almost like two different sides in the first and second half.

"We hold ourselves as players accountable for that, it is not a coaching thing or anything else when suddenly a team plays differently in the second half, it is a mental thing and we were lucky enough that we did not leave it too late to switch that on.

"We did not do ourselves any favours with the deficit we had at half-time, but to get the win is huge and I will certainly take five points from it myself whenever it crops up."

In the absence of their Six Nations squad members, Ulster will be taking on Benetton at Kingspan on Friday night.

Ahead of a game that will carry implications regarding qualification for next year's Champions Cup, Moore warned that Ulster's narrow victory in Italy earlier this year should act as a warning.

"We've had this already this year, we sort of got a reality check on how good a side they are," he said.

"We spent the first 40 minutes of the game defending our line. We came away with a win that day but this week we know exactly what to expect.

"They are a very much improved side and are a very dangerous side, so the fact we've already gone there and experienced it first hand will stand to us this week.

"The last time I would have played Treviso (before this year) would have been prior to my time in England and they're a very different side compared to three or four years ago.

"The style they play, I can only liken it to an Exeter-type attack. They hold onto the ball for long, long periods, try and play down the short side and keep your defence guessing.

"So the threat they pose is enough for everyone to zero in on what a big week it is.

"It's a very short week with a Friday game and the turnaround is quite quick so a lot of the time spent on Monday, as well as physical preparation, we're just learning."

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