Cardiff coach declares Irish provinces have lost aura
A WEEK out from the start of the Magners League campaign, Cardiff Blues coach Dai Young threw down the gauntlet to Irish rugby when he declared that the provinces have lost their aura.
In 2009, Ireland were Grand Slam champions while Leinster and Munster picked up the Heineken Cup and Magners League titles respectively, but last season was trophy-less for Irish rugby and Young says teams now travel to Ireland confident of picking up points.
"Up until last season, going to Ulster was always a formidable task and something that we got little joy out of, but we have won there the last two seasons," said Young.
"We have also won at Munster a few times and we have always pushed Leinster close. So I think that pedestal we have placed them on in the last couple of years probably isn't there now.
"We know there'll be no easy games and we know we have to be at our best. But we have a confidence about us now, when we go over to Ireland, that we didn't used to have," he added.
Ulster complete their pre-season schedule with a friendly at Ravenhill tonight (7.30) against Leeds, their last outing before champions Ospreys visit Belfast the following weekend.
The team is captained by hooker Rory Best and he is joined by fellow Ireland international Stephen Ferris, who makes up a powerful back row alongside Pedrie Wannenburg and Willie Faloon.
Niall O'Connor starts at outside-half with Ian Humphreys on the bench and much interest will centre on the performance of Australian Adam D'Arcy, the exciting former rugby league player who will be out to impress at full-back as he seeks to secure a contract with Ulster.
Prop Paddy McAllister has been replaced on the bench by Paul Karrayannis after failing to recover in time from neck and back injuries sustained in the friendly against Bath.
Meanwhile, former Leicester winger Johne Murphy is set to make his Munster debut tomorrow night when they take on Gloucester in their final pre-season match at Musgrave Park.
The Kildare man, who impressed for Ireland against the New Zealand Maori in June, is included in a 27-man squad as are Murphy's fellow summer tourists Peter Stringer, Mick O'Driscoll, Niall Ronan, Tony Buckley and Damien Varley, while Alan Quinlan and Doug Howlett are also named.
ULSTER (v Leeds)-- A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, I Whitten, T Seymour, N O'Connor, I Porter; B Young, R Best (capt), D Fitzpatrick, J Muller, T Barker, S Ferris, W Faloon, P Wannenburg. Reps: N Brady, P Karrayannis, A Macklin, R Caldwell, TJ Anderson, R Diack, M Heaney, I Humphreys, J Shiels, D McIlwaine
MUNSTER (squad v Gloucester) -- I Dineen, S Zebo, S Deasy, D Barnes, F Jones, D Howlett, J Murphy, S Tuitupou, I Dowling, P Warwick, P Stringer, D Williams, B Holland, R O'Mahony, N Ronan, M O'Driscoll, S Archer, Dave Ryan, D Fogarty, D Leamy, T O'Donnell, A Quinlan, Donnacha Ryan, I Nagle, T Buckley, D Varley, W du Preez.