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Ulstermen are digging deep for each other, says Reidy

 

Stuck in: Sean Reidy believes Ulster are in a strong place
Stuck in: Sean Reidy believes Ulster are in a strong place

By Michael Sadlier

His evening's work had again been eye-catchingly good but didn't end when the final whistle was sounded as Sean Reidy first had to pick up the man of the match award and then, well, face the media.

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The 30-year-old Kiwi could have probably done without any fanfare or the potential ordeal of having to handle questions after the 80-minute shift he had put in during the 35-3, five-try thumping of Connacht.

An eye-watering 26 tackles had helped keep Ulster's line intact and the Ireland international had popped up all over the Kingspan Stadium turf with one piece of link play followed by an overhead pass giving Billy Burns the space to score the home side's second try after a sweeping move downfield.

That piece of handling skill was met with a familiar shrug. After all, he was just doing his job as any other flanker would attempt to do.

"It was just a fluke," said Reidy when confronted by his try assist, before quipping: "I was aiming for (John) Cooney anyway."

He was much more on-message, though, when thrown a pass about Friday's next Irish derby when Munster - expected to be locked and loaded after Saturday evening's loss to Leinster at Thomond Park - come up the road to Kingspan Stadium, where Ulster have now gone 18 games without defeat.

"You want teams that come here having in the back of their minds that it's a tough place to win, so it's good to hold to that," said Reidy while already thinking about Munster as Dan McFarland's squad aim for a seventh win from their last eight games as a prelude to returning to Europe for the last two group matches with qualification very much a realistic target.

While readily accepting that Ulster would need to improve by at least "another 10 to 15%" for this Friday when they should have Iain Henderson, Jacob Stockdale and Jordi Murphy back, Reidy reckoned that Ulster would be ready for the challenge.

"I felt that when we went down to Thomond Park they got away with a win there," he said of the 22-16 reverse in November.

"But I think coming up here they'll be fully loaded but the boys will be ready for this one."

While 11 tries in two games more than suggests that Ulster have potency in attack, there was ample evidence that their defensive work rate is also in a good place after last Friday's huge effort at the end of the first half.

With Connacht pummelling the Ulster line for over 30 phases, and Rob Herring being in the bin during this period, McFarland's men held firm which must have been a moment to savour for defence coach Jared Payne.

Their lung-busting determination not to give up a score unsurprisingly proved to be a pivotal moment, allowing Ulster to then reach half-time staying 14-3 ahead with Reidy being part of the turnover which finally lifted the siege with the clock in red.

"We dug in pretty deep for each other," said Reidy, before sharing an insight into the side's current rather steely mentality and the case for an 'all for one and one for all' approach.

"It's tough going but when you see guys getting off the ground and working hard for each other, you know that you don't want to let your mate down. That's something we've really built on in the last year or two. You know, guys working hard for each other.

"So it's not easy but when you see guys getting up and making two-man hits and driving players back and no one lying on the ground and taking the easy way out, it's really a bit inspiring."

Indeed, Ulster didn't concede any points during Herring's binning and, actually, none at all in what remained of the game.

While there was no doubt that Connacht's very rare Belfast win back in October 2018 was a point of focus, this defensive shift demonstrated that McFarland really does have this side at a point where they can function at an impressive level.

A collective determination but also belief is clearly evident.

"We've got a really good buzz here with guys geeing each other up," Reidy explained. "That's what we base our energy and spark around the pitch on.

"Whenever anyone does something right or wrong, we're all in helping each other out."

With Friday inescapably resembling a bit of a dress rehearsal for two more weekends of Champions Cup action, Munster know that, this season, Ulster are a different side with so much more ordnance to deploy.

One area, though, which will be receiving some attention from McFarland is Ulster's lineout which visibly creaked last Friday evening even though one lost throw still ended up with Alan O'Connor snaffling the first try.

There will also be concern over Marcell Coetzee who left in the first half for an HIA after a smash from Paddy McAllister, while Louis Ludik shipped what could be a serious ankle injury.

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