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Ulster need to seize early momentum, says Matty Rea

 

Early marker: Matty Rea looking forward to Munster battle
Early marker: Matty Rea looking forward to Munster battle

By Michael Sadlier

Another home game for Ulster and the balance has to be struck between being comfortable in a familiar environment and still finding the appropriate levels of ferocity and accuracy when it comes to the job.

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The plan is to unleash something akin to shock and awe, to show dominance from the off and then maintain it through ruthless work-rate for as long as possible as the game unfolds.

Simple, right? As with all plans, there are no guarantees, though Munster coming to Belfast with what is expected to be a fairly strong side looks certain to stress the theory and possibly push Ulster to another level as they bid to make it 18 unbeaten games at Kingspan Stadium.

For Matty Rea, the intensity really starts to build in the pre-match warm-up.

The players and coaches will have talked and trained during the week, but now, with the crowd coming in, the switch is flicked to full-on.

Time for the 26-year-old and his team-mates to go to work.

With kick-off, he will want the ball or have to make a tackle as early as possible. Whatever his point of first contact with the game, Rea wants to set a marker and win that moment.

"It sets the tone," says the Ballymena native, who is gunning to take on Munster on Friday in what will be his 13th involvement this season from Ulster's 14 games.

"From the weekend past (against Connacht) we started from the first whistle with a couple of big plays and that shocked them a little.

"Teams travel, and if you get shocked in the first five minutes it's always going to be a tough one.

"For us, it's about putting in a performance for 80 minutes, not just going well for maybe half the game, it's keeping the foot on the throat."

Rea has become a vital cog in Ulster's preferred starting back-row - no mean feat when competing with Sean Reidy and Jordi Murphy - and has been rewarded for his commitment and work-rate.

Not for the first time, a player is heard mentioning Dan McFarland as having quite an impact in making this happen.

"I think Dan has been very good with feedback and things I need to work on, and it's obviously bringing out the best in me," adds Rea.

"For me, though, it's just about getting through as much work as possible.

"With carries, obviously you've got guys like Marcell who can carry up to 30 times a game, so you're not doing that much, but it's just about being able to fit in and complement those guys as much as possible.

"That's something we've done this year, there's more synergy in the back-row than there has maybe been these last few years.

"We've been pretty consistent with the selection and that's paying dividends now," adds the flanker, who is set to make his 40th Ulster appearance on Friday.

With Coetzee absent this week, the South African's largely singular load as a dynamic carrier will need to be spread around the starting eight.

"I think everybody has to take the load," Rea says.

Even without Coetzee's yardage to call upon, Ulster know they have managed to build a pretty useful pack this season, with the work-rate of Marty Moore, Rob Herring, Alan O'Connor and Reidy laying the foundation for others to follow.

Rea is also very much part of this harder-edged bunch of forwards who are confident of prevailing against rival packs.

"We're putting together a pack now that can go toe-to-toe with teams like Munster and come out on top," he says.

"There aren't many back-rows who have got ahead of us this season as a unit," he adds, though Peter O'Mahony's name crops up at this point.

"He's set the standard really," states Rea, of Munster's talisman who may yet be involved this week.

"That's where you measure yourself, in big games, that's where you show your mettle."

Winning that first moment, and setting the tone of all that should follow, will be vital.

Ulster vs Munster

Guinness PRO14 Championship

Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm

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