Ulster backrow, Nick Timoney, is looking forward to returning to the RDS Arena where he played as a schoolboy and take on some familiar faces in Leinster for the last of the festive Guinness PRO14 Irish derbies.
The former Ireland Under-20 international was overlooked for the Leinster Academy, but opted to come to Belfast and has impressed in the Ulster colours.
The former Blackrock College student, who won the Leinster Schools’ Cup in 2013, is one of several native Dubliners in the Ulster side who would enjoy putting one over on the current PRO14 and European champions.
Leinster are currently runaway leaders in Conference B of the PRO14, 16 points ahead of second placed Ulster and the challenge on Saturday night in Dublin is one Timoney is excited about.
“I went to a good few games (to watch Leinster) at the RDS and played some Schools’ Cup games there, obviously a couple of their players I would have gone to school with and a good couple would have played against my whole childhood,” said Timoney.
“It is exciting to go back and play against them, know a lot of them quite well and excited to challenge myself against them.
“Playing in any of the inter-pro games always has spice to it.
“They (Leinster) are the closest team to us, biggest rivals, double champions, there would be something seriously wrong if we did not have an edge playing against them.
“They seem to take their rivalry with Munster more seriously because we did not have a great season last year and they see them as a better team than us, which they are entitled to think what they want, but we are going down there to win, so it will have as much of an edge as we make it,” added Timoney.
Ulster are not desperate for a win, but they are keen to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Connacht last weekend.
Give the way other results went in the Conference, a win in Galway would have put Ulster in a much stronger position going into 2019 - instead they are locked in a tight battle for second and third place with Benetton, Scarlets and Edinburgh.
But to be sitting in second place in both PRO14 and their European Pool, has shown the progress Ulster have made this season and Timoney sees the weekend as being another opportunity to continue that.
“I think our performances recently, in previous years, games may have slipped away from us,” he said.
“I think some of the aspects coming through all of the games, even our losses, is that we have been finishing games strongly, finishing them almost every game on top, we have been going 80 minutes, you have seen that from the start of this year.
“If you look at this time last year we were probably three from four in Europe, second or third in our group, had just beaten Munster, lost to Connacht away and going down to Leinster.
“I think we were third or fourth in PRO14, it was a little bit different, but I think just the manner of our performances and some of the characteristics are showing more prominently than last year.
“I think Dan (McFarland) has been really consistent in what he wants from us. It is not difficult to know what is expected of you, we are definitely on the right track.”