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Ulster focused on what they have to do in Dublin

Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe with assistant coach Jonny Bell

Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe with assistant coach Jonny Bell

Leinster in Dublin have proven to be Ulster’s bogey team since the formation of the Celtic League - and indeed before that.

Prior to the 2012-13 RaboDirect PRO12 campaign, Ulster have not won away to Leinster in 19 years.

But they put an end to the hoodoo by completing the league double over the side as they went on finish top seeds after the regular season.

However, when the sides contested the Grand Final is was Leinster who prevailed as they had done in the all Ireland Heineken Cup final a year earlier at Twickenham.

This season, Mark Anscombe’s side have lost both home and away to Leinster in the league campaign, although they did win a pre-season friendly by a couple of points back in August.

On Saturday Ulster are back at the RDS looking to make successive PRO12 finals, but Leinster are keen to keep their hands on the trophy.

Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe and his counterpart at Leinster, Matt O’Connor, dealt their hands for the Irish derby showdown yesterday.

Ulster were boosted by the return of the injured Rory Best (hooker), Ruan Pienaar (scrumhalf), Ricky Lutton (tighthead prop) and Robbie Diack (backrow), with all four due to start.

It is just what the doctor ordered for Ulster, even though a shadow side defeated Munster at Thomond Park in Limerick 19-17 last weekend.

Anscombe made a total of 13 changes - all expected - to that side, while O’Connor made 13 changes from the team which defeated Edinburgh last weekend.

Leinster defeated Ulster at Ravenhill two weeks ago, 22-20, with the home side playing the game with 14 players after Tom Court was sent off in the 16th minutes.

Leinster also spoiled the party for the home Province as they officially opened their newly developed Ravenhill Stadium as well as it being skipper Johann Muller and Court’s last home game in the white shirt.

However, although Ulster’s form has not been that impressive towards the business end of the season, there is still the chance they can turn the tables and rain down on Leinster’s party in their own back yard.

Leinster, Ireland and British Lion star, Brian O’Driscoll will be playing in what he hopes will be his penultimate game before his retirement after the PRO12 final on May 31.

The world’s most capped player has enjoyed a tremendous final season by already securing a Six Nations Championship winner’s medal and a perfect send off would probably be as a PRO12 final winner in his home ground at the RDS.

However, sentiment does not come into the mix when it comes to an Irish derby clash between the two sides.

Anscombe said: “Of course Brian has been an outstanding player. One of the best ever.

“But if we win the game and spoil his send off, I am not really that worried and nor will the team.

“We’ve got some men finishing their careers or moving on as well, and we want to see them off on the right note.”

Ulster are the big underdogs, according to the bookies anyway, and few would back an away win on current form and given Leinster’s record at the RDS.

And while the shadow team went to Munster with nothing to lose, Anscombe said that was not a factor being considered this weekend.

“When you have put in the work this squad has in the past 12 months, and before, as it is a process, then you want to win.

“If you have reached a semi-final, yes you have achieved something and people want to go further.

“The supporters and followers expect it and want it, so there is pressure on us to go down there, put in the performance we know we can and get what we want.

“We have to back up ourselves that we can go out and win,” added Anscombe.

“Sometimes when you keep losing to a team that can create a certain amount of doubt within you and you do not believe yourselves.

“If you have been the more dominant team against another then you have the confidence in yourself to put that team away.

“We have got to believe in ourselves and know that we are good enough to beat these teams.

“We have been building nicely towards this and I know that if our guys front up on the day and perform their top game then they can achieve.

“Look Leinster are a good side. We did the double on them last year, but they beat us in the final.

“This year they have done the double on us and now we are meeting in a semi-final. We have the utmost respect for them, but we also know that if we are on our game and perform to our full ability - and it will take that - then we can beat them,” added Anscombe.

Leinster boss O’Connor said he also had the utmost respect for Ulster squad.

“Already this year we have had two incredibly physical and enthralling games against them and I have no doubt but that Saturday will be no different.

“The players really can’t wait - a full house in the RDS is an electric atmosphere and they look forward to taking to the field and rising to the challenge from Ulster.”

If Ulster are to win the game they must ensure their discipline is key.

And that means not charging head into this match as they have in other big games already this season.

They appeared over eager at the start of the Saracens Heineken Cup quarter-final and again against Leinster two week ago - and the early penalty give aways were to prove costly in the end.

 

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