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Ward calls on Ulster to match '99 heroics

FORMER Ulster star Andy Ward has called on the current team to match the heroics of 1999 by beating Edinburgh this Saturday.

The Aviva Stadium clash is the province's first Heineken Cup semi-final since Ward was part of the team that won the competition 13 years ago, and the former Ireland international reckons the Scots could be in for a difficult evening.

After more than a decade of underachievement, Ulster are finally within reach of European club rugby's biggest day.

And Ward paid tribute to outgoing coach Brian McLaughlin, who has restored the side's reputation, but has been controversially demoted in favour of New Zealander Mark Anscombe, a move that will take place this summer regardless of results.

"What Brian has done over the past number of years has been really good," Ward said. "He has brought them on to a new level, a place where they haven't been for more than 10 years. That is down to Brian, with some input from players and different elements. By and large, he has got them where they are.

"It has been an exceptionally difficult time for him, there has been a lot of turmoil and I am pleased with how he dealt with it. It will probably be an emotional time over the next few weeks.



Difficult

"The team are in a new era, it has been a long, long time (since 1999). There have been a lot of ups and downs over the last few years.

"There has not been enough consistency; the coaches have changed - they must have gone through six or seven coaches in that period. They are starting to get things right, there are a lot of senior players in that team now and they are getting that consistency. I can see it being a difficult day for Edinburgh."

A teak-tough back-row himself, Ward has been impressed with the current crop of loose forwards, and backed Chris Henry to make it through his injury difficulties and make a mark on Saturday.

"Losing Chris would be a big," he said. "He is playing well. When Chris is in the team, it is a more balanced back-row. I think he'll be fine for this weekend. He has matured a hell of a lot. His game appreciation is better."


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