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Ulster players have been 'spectators' and must respond against Leinster: Dundon



Pitch battle: Ulster on the way to victory over Munster at Kingspan Stadium on New Year’s Day despite problems in the scrum

Pitch battle: Ulster on the way to victory over Munster at Kingspan Stadium on New Year’s Day despite problems in the scrum

©INPHO/James Crombie

Pitch battle: Ulster on the way to victory over Munster at Kingspan Stadium on New Year’s Day despite problems in the scrum

Ulster cannot afford to carry any "spectators" against Leinster on Saturday according to Aaron Dundon.

The northern province travel to Dublin on Saturday (5.35pm kick-off) looking for only their second away win in the city since the turn of the millennium and, after 120 minutes of abject rugby over the festive season, their scrum coach was in no mood to mince his words.

While Les Kiss's side ultimately came back to beat Munster on New Year's Day once the visitors were reduced to 14 men, the 17-0 half-time deficit off the back of a record defeat at the hands of Connacht a week prior meant that three-quarters of their rugby in the past two games has been well below the expected standard.

"We've had spectators the last few weeks," Dundon said candidly. "Looking back, we're pretty disappointed.

"The first half (of Munster) was similar to the 80 minutes against Connacht where we didn't show up. That's a game and a half where we haven't shown up for the inter-pros, which is frustrating.

"As a coach you really shouldn't have to get the boys up for an inter-pro game. You are playing against your fellow countrymen, your team- mates, and these are the games that you should want to play in, should want to play your best in.

"We did for the second-half, but if you show up for just a half against Leinster it is going to be a different outcome.

"It's good we got the response, for the supporters to see that fight and show what the jersey means to a lot of the players, but we have to make sure we go up another level, we have got to bring not just 40 minutes, but 80."

Just as against Munster, one aspect of the game sure to be tested against Leinster is Dundon's own area of responsibility - the scrum.

Ulster's set-piece creaked until breaking point earlier this week, ultimately surrendering a penalty try that brought up the last of Munster's 17 points.

Things were better following the turn after Kyle McCall and Rodney Ah You were replaced by Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst respectively.

Ulster's two starting props had both been out of action since October, with Dundon admitting it had been a risk to throw the pair back in at the deep end.

"Yeah, it could have been a risk, but for me we needed to get those two boys fit for this weekend and for the two European games coming up because the guys are too important to how we play," he said.

"I thought we needed to give them game-time. They struggled a bit, but they will be better for it and in the games coming up.

"The front row, we didn't do what we talked about. It was the same down in Connacht, the way we played, we lost every aspect of that game down in Connacht. Same with Munster.

"But in the second-half the boys changed, we did what we planned and stuck to it and had a better outcome in the second-half."

Even when at their best, Ulster have had their struggles with their nearest neighbours Leinster.

When the Celtic League came into existence, the pair had, somewhat remarkably, evenly split their 119 meetings with 53 wins apiece and 13 draws.

Since then, however, it has been a rivalry more akin to that between the hammer and the nail, with the boys in blue claiming the spoils in almost three-quarters of the league contests, as well as the 2012 Heineken Cup final.

Dundon, who made 49 appearances for Leinster as a hooker, believes mindset is key to their ascension to become Ireland's dominant side.

"They treat an inter-pro up there with Europe. They want to win every inter-pro. They take extra pride in winning their home and away inter-pros, it is a competition outside of the competition that they want to win," he said.

"I would say, looking at our last two games, they will back themselves to win it, and rightly so. There is no bigger game than playing one of the best teams in Europe at the minute on their own patch.

"It's an added incentive for us, and hopefully we go down with a bit of bite, a bit of purpose. We need to go down with 23 guys who want to play."

Rory Best has overcome the foot infection that has kept him out of the last four games, while both Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale will slot back in after missing the Munster win through the usual festive rest afforded Irish internationals.

Sean Reidy is fit again after sustaining a dead leg against Connacht, but fellow flanker Chris Henry is still out.

Louis Ludik is still battling the illness that saw him become a late scratch last time out.

Leinster have already ruled out Sean O'Brien, Joey Carbery and James Ryan, as well as longer-term absentees Jamie Heaslip and Rhys Ruddock.

Belfast Telegraph