Ulster are firmly underdogs for Saturday night’s Irish derby clash at the RDS Arena, Dublin, against defending Guinness PRO14 champions Leinster.
The last of the festive period derbies will see both Provinces field rotated squads, but even a shadow Leinster side is strongly fancied to extend their lead at the top of Conference B.
One leading bookmaker was offering odds of 1/16 against Ulster winning.
However, with the odds stacked firmly against them, defence coach Jared Payne, believes it is also an opportunity for the matchdat 23 named later on Friday to go out and have a go at last season’s double champions.
Leinster have made the RDS a real fortress in the past two years and Ulster’s last win at the venue was when Payne was playing in March 2013.
“It is a difficult place to go of course,” said Payne. “Many teams have found that, but you just have to go down and get into them.
“Go down and don’t cross the line in terms of not doing anything silly.
“You have to front up physically and look forward to the challenge. There was a pretty good buzz amongst the guys in training this week in particular.
“They are keen and excited - it really is a great chance isn’t it?
“People are not expecting much from the group, so there is no better opportunity to play without fear and it is a pretty good place to be,” insisted Payne.
The former British Lion and Irish international, who joined Ulster’s coaching panel last summer following his premature retirement from the game, agreed this was one of those weeks when a lot was learned about the squad.
“There will be a few guys sitting on the sidelines wanting a chance over the last four or five weeks.
“It will be good to see what sort of flavour they put into the game.
“They will come in and put their own imprint on it and we will see what they offer.
“It will be very interesting to see,” added Payne.
Meanwhile, Leinster wing James Lowe will serve a two-week suspension for a challenge on Munster’s Andrew Conway in last week’s Pro14 match in Limerick.
Lowe was red-carded for his tackle on Conway, who was off the ground and landed on his neck.
At a disciplinary hearing Lowe accepted his actions merited a red card.
The disciplinary committee said the red card warranted a four-week ban but this was reduced to two because of Lowe’s clean disciplinary record.
Lowe is now sidelined for the RDS derby with Ulster tomorrow and a European Champions Cup encounter with Toulouse a week later.