Ulster face stern test against reigning champions Leinster in Dublin
Ulster have only won eight of their last 43 meetings with Leinster, with the RDS outfit claiming 33 wins and two draws.
Since 1999, Ulster have only defeated the men in blue once in Dublin and travel to the reigning league champions on Saturday four points behind Leo Cullen’s side in the United Rugby Championship after the opening five games.
Ulster’s task has been made more difficult as captain Iain Henderson is ruled out with a hamstring problem although all of coach Dan McFarland’s other Irish internationals are available for selection.
Leinster have won all five games this season, four with try bonus points. They have scored the most points in the league and conceded the fewest, so how do you beat a side like Leinster?
“Don’t ask the All Blacks but that’s a bit cheeky,” joked McFarland in reference to 12 Leinster players starting in Ireland’s recent 29-20 victory over New Zealand.
“You have to match them in intensity both physically in the collisions but also in your speed of movement around the park.
“We’re not a team that is going to overpower them with brute force the way that La Rochelle have done.
“We have a particular way of playing which does involve winning gain line, quick ball, movement of ball.
“We have to be able to get that right, they’re a team who are extremely adept at slowing things down and that’s a battle we have to win,” McFarland added.
“In addition to that we have to be smart in the way that we play in the middle third of the field.
“Their defence really forces you into errors and we’ve got to limit those or be very carefully how we play the territory around the field.
“It’s an extremely big challenge but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
While the RDS has been a fortress for Leinster in recent years McFarland knows it can be penetrated.
“I don’t think it’s the venue, they’re an excellent team but they’ve lost there to Ospreys and Connacht in the recent past,” he said.
“We win a lot of games at Kingspan - the RDS is a good stadium but to win games you’ve to be a good team.
“Playing at home, they’ll enjoy that, they’ll have a good crowd, and they’re an extremely good team so we’ll have to be on our mettle.”
With Europe on the horizon McFarland is hoping new signing Duane Vermeulen will be fit and ready when he joins up with the squad at Kingspan Stadium.
The South African world cup winner is on the bench for the Barbarians as they face Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday.
“He’s played a number of games for the Springboks and he’s got the Ba-Baas next weekend and then he arrives with us,” McFarland said.
“We’ll obviously have a plan for how we introduce him, he’s a seasoned professional, it’s not going to take much time for him to get up to speed.
“We’ve lots of other considerations to take around that but we’re really looking forward to seeing him and welcoming him to the Ulster family.”