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Novès: Ulster progress is not a surprise

LEGENDARY Toulouse coach Guy Novès has admitted that he is not surprised by Ulster's progress to the final but admits Leinster hold the edge.

Novès, arguably the greatest coach in the history of European club rugby with four Heineken Cup victories and nine French Top 14 titles in 19 years, has been impressed with how Ulster have emerged as a force in European rugby.

"It seems to me that Ulster are a province that have really redoubled their efforts and I think last season they had already started to change direction," he said.

"I think they've made huge progress and wanted to become a major Irish province, contrary to previous years when, from my view from the outside, they seemed like the poor relation of Munster and Leinster.

"We knew that it was always difficult to play them at their ground but they were still a team that didn't seem complete in every sector.

"They're not there by chance. The results they got in the pool stages maybe surprised people who weren't expecting it.

"But they've backed them up to become one of the best teams in Europe, without question."

The 58-year-old has no doubt the first ever all-Ireland final is deserved.

"I've been in six finals, three of which were all-French - against Perpignan, Stade Français and Biarritz. At the time I thought they were deserved.

"I think that this all-Irish final is also completely deserved, because Ulster deserve to be there and Leinster have backed up last season and got back to their best form at the best time.

"I think that Leinster play a very precise game, with lots of pace and initiative. The fact that they brought in a second row from New Zealand [Brad Thorn] to compensate for their injured players shows that they're a very ambitious province.

"They're an intelligent team with huge mental strength . . . I love a lot about the rugby they play."