Leinster v Ulster: Facing Leinster in a European Champions Cup quarter-final is a ‘brilliant challenge’ insists Dan McFarland

Leinster's Head Coach Leo Cullen with Ulster's Head Coach Dan McFarland
Leinster's Head Coach Leo Cullen with Ulster's Head Coach Dan McFarland
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Injury headaches aside, Ulster and Leinster head coaches are both looking forward to the challenge of facing off in a European Champions Cup quarter-final in Dublin on Saturday.

Both Dan McFarland and Leo Cullen are courting some injury issues ahead of the eagerly anticipated Irish derby in the sold-out Aviva Stadium.

McFarland will have more to concern him, given Cullen has more strength in depth to call on.

It is a week when Ulster really need to have all hands on deck.

But with question marks still surrounding the fitness of British Lion lock, Iain Henderson and Irish centre Will Addison - and throw into the mix longer term injuries for Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy - McFarland already had enough to concern himself with.

Then, as Ulster secured a bonus point win in a 33-17 home success over Southern Kings on Saturday to move second in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, Louis Ludik, Marty Moore and Darren Cave pick up knocks.

The most serious of those was to fullback Ludik who was helped off by medics after sustaining a ninth minute leg injury.

For Leinster, Robbie Henshaw is running out of time to prove his fitness for the Euro tie having suffered a dead leg at the start of February when playing for Ireland against England in the Six Nations.

Cullen remains without lock Devin Toner and yesterday he allayed fears surrounding hooker Sean Cronin, who was taken off during the PRO14 defeat in Edinburgh as a precaution after suffering a bang to the head.

Irish backrow forward Josh Van Der Flier has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after undergoing a procedure on his groin last week following an injury picked up in Ireland’s Six Nations win over France.

Cullen will not be overly concerned given the number of players he has available to him throughout the squad in most positions - including some incredibly talented young players who were part of the Irish Under-2o Grand Slam Six Nations success.

For McFarland, it will be frustrating not to be able to deal with a full hand against the defending European and PRO14 champions, but he certainly remained upbeat.

“Apart from the potential for the injuries we will be in a good place going into this weekend,” he insisted.

That may be a hint that Henderson will be available to play after a knee sprain in Ireland’s win over France just over two weeks ago, but he does have captain Rory Best returning from Irish duty along with fellow Irish international winger Jacob Stockdale.

Ulster will certainly be going to Dublin as underdogs, but it is a challenge whoever takes the Aviva Stadium turf will be up for.

After their double success last season, Leinster are regarded as one of the best club sides in the Europe, indeed the World.

McFarland said: “I think you have to pay them a lot of respect and you want to pay them a lot of respect.

“What they have done consistently over the last number of years is impressive.

“They are well coached, there are a lot of guys who work very for their province and when the chips are down they produce the goods.

“For us, that is a brilliant challenge. There is no need for added motivation ahead of this weekend, you are playing a quarter-final of the best club competition in the world.

“Every person who pulls on the Ulster jersey this week, their hearts will be beating and their blood will be pumping!” he enthused.