A lot has been made of Ulster’s unbeaten home record which stretches back to October 2018 as Munster visit the Kingspan Stadium tonight (7.35pm) looking to complete a Pro14 league double over Dan McFarland’s side.
After working so hard to turn the Belfast venue into a graveyard for visiting teams centre Luke Marshall doesn’t want to surrender the home record in the first game of the new year.
“It sort of heaps the pressure on a bit more, it is good, we are bringing back the fortress feeling to the Kingspan/Ravenhill - the pressure now is just keeping that up and keeping the record intact,” said Marshall.
“I think it is down (home record) to the culture Dan tried to install since he has been here, sort of corny as it sounds, playing for the badge, playing for the Province; he has really bought into that and pushed us to buy into it.
“There are probably more players here from the last few years from abroad and down south than there would have been, if we are honest if you take someone coming out of the Leinster Academy, their dream was not be playing at Ulster.
“When they do move up here how do you install that pride where they are playing? I think Dan has done it really well, he has got us representing the badge and playing for the Province, the support we have, it has always been there over the last 10 years, but that helps as well.”
With Irish internationals Conor Murray, Joey Carbery and Andrew Conway returning to the Munster backline Marshall is expecting them to throw the ball about more than they have done in previous years.
“They have changed it up this year with Stephen Larkham coming in. Without being disrespectful to them, they are playing a wee bit more rugby now rather than their traditional 10-man style they used to play, though they can revert to that because they have a dominant pack - it depends what kind of team they pick but I’m sure they’ll come up fully loaded.
“A lot of their wide starter players are generally quite new because traditionally they don’t play a lot of wide rugby and now they do, not just Larkham coming in but the backline they have coming in is now one of the best in the league.
“They have so much talent out wide and I think they realise they need to use it and not just rely on their pack, it makes them pretty tough to play against.”
There will be a lot of personal battles around the park but the midfield one looks intriguing as Marshall and Stuart McCloskey go against Rory Scannell and Sam Arnold.
“Stu and myself have developed a good relationship over the last few years from playing together and this season as well, we have put a good few games together, we read each other reasonably well and it certainly helps,” said Marshall.
“It’s also the competition we have in the backline generally is crazy at the minute and it is good to have so many guys who can slip into different positions.”
Jacob Stockdale comes onto the wing for the injured Louie Ludik in the only change to the backline from the victory over Connacht.
Nick Timoney, a try scorer last week, replaces Marcell Coetzee at No8 while captain Iain Henderson is back in the engine room.
Ireland’s Jordi Murphy misses the game due to illness.
Ulster team to play Munster: (15-9) Will Addison, Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney; (1-8) Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Craig Gilroy.