Ulster are ready to step it up for real in PRO12

Louis Ludik cuts through the Leinster defence
Louis Ludik cuts through the Leinster defence

It is always difficult to gauge much from pre-season friendlies but Ulster’s victory over Leinster at the Tallaght Stadium, Dublin, will certainly give the Northern Province a huge lift as they go into the Guinness PRO12 campaign.

Any win against Leinster, friendly, PRO12 or Europe, are rare for most teams.

However, a year ago Ulster defeated the men in Blue at home in a friendly and then lost to them three times in the PRO12, including a semi-final.

Ulster lost 22-21 to Exeter Chiefs a week earlier at the Kingspan Stadium - a game they had probably not expected to win on paper, but were hugely disappointed too after leading for most of the game.

What the past fortnight has achieved is the ticking of a few boxes - given the number of replacements used in both games, it was almost like watching four different matches.

There are a number of players who are ready to rumble, some have a bit of work to do and there are a couple of the young guys emerging through from the Academy who will benefit greatly from playing with the Ulster Ravens, or their clubs, this season.

Ulster travel to Scarlets for their opening Guinness PRO12 match on Saturday - part of a Sky Sports double bill with Glasgow v Leinster.

It looks as though interim director of rugby, Les Kiss, will start with Jared Payne at outside centre and summer signing Louis Ludik at fullback as they started against Leinster - although the latter impressed in the former position against Exeter.

However, the backline will not be of major focus for Ulster - any of the seven players who make the starting XV next week will do a job.

It will be upfront where the attention will focus after an exodus of key players at the end of last season - and the unavailability of some front line players.

Scarlets defeated Gloucester in a pre-season friendly on the weekend and it was the Welsh side’s pack which impressed.

Ulster will not be unduly concerned, the likes of Wiehahn Herbst (prop) and Franco van de Merwe (lock), new signings over the summer, have ticked the boxes, while elsewhere the new gym at the Kingspan is doing its job.

There was only once major concern from the visit to Dublin - Stuart Olding.

Making his first appearance since rupturing his ACL playing for the Ravens 10 months ago Olding started at inside centre.

However, he was forced off but it is understood it was a dislocated finger which should not keep him out for too long.

Ulster opened the scoring after just three minutes with a well worked try. Good work from Andrew Warwick and Dan Tuohy created room for fullback Ludik to spring through a gap and race clear.

The fullback lost his footing but the impressive Paul Marshall reacted quickly and fed Payne, who squeezed in at the corner.

Ian Humphreys - who latter suffered a dead-leg converted and added a penalty