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Former Ulster man Whitten hoping to plot a winning Lansdowne Road return



Ian Whitten. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Ian Whitten. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Ian Whitten. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

When Ian Whitten last togged out to play at Lansdowne Road the circumstances and stakes were very different.

This weekend, he'll emerge from the state-of-the-art dressing-rooms into a modern arena full of fans waving blue flags.

On his last appearance for Queens against Wanderers in Division Three of the All-Ireland League during the mid-2000s, he togged out in the changing-rooms beneath the old West Stand.

The clubhouses at both corners were still standing, there was a sparse crowd on the terraces and the Belfast students were hammered.

Since then he has won two caps for Ireland and established himself at Exeter Chiefs with whom he secured a Premiership medal last summer.

And yet, returning to the Aviva Stadium after all these years is personally satisfying for the 30-year-old from Lisburn whose family are travelling south for the day as his side look to turn the tables on Leinster.

"It'll be special for me," he admitted. "I played a club game at the old Lansdowne Road for Queen's University, so I did.

"I never played in the Aviva so - if he picks me - it'd be special for me. I'm sure it'd be special for Steeno (fellow Chief and former Ulster player Gareth Steenson) too.

"We played Wanderers, I think we got absolutely stuffed.

"I remember the wee clubhouses at the end... yeah, I've been round a long time. Feels that way now as well, so it does.

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"It was All-Ireland League Division Three or something like that. Good standard!

"Nobody came over for this one, because they're all going next week.

"They come over all the time. Last year was great, the semi-final and final of a Premiership, so there was a few over for that."

For all that there is personal satisfaction at playing at the home of Irish rugby, Whitten is not losing sight of the importance of the result on Saturday.

After losing Sunday's first meeting between the sides at Sandy Park, the English champions' backs are to the wall and failure to win in Dublin would likely end their interest in this season's Champions Cup.

"Generally, when we've lost games we haven't panicked," he said.

"We talk sensibly about what we need to get better. There's still good belief in ourselves. We're top of the Premiership, went away to Montpellier and won. There's a bit of belief there we can take from what we've done this year already - the end of last year as well.

"We believe we're a good rugby side. It's just, can we produce it against Leinster and get a win against them?

"I'm sure we'll pick ourselves up. We need to go away and get points to keep ourselves in it.

"Realistically, we've lost, but we're not out of it. We've three games left and two wins in the bank already. We've to push and try to get that four-win mark."

Although they were denied a losing bonus point in the home game, Whitten took solace from some of the joy Exeter got from attacking wide. We talked about that, there was opportunities there," he said.

"But in the first half especially it was hard to get our set-ups to go wide. We kept getting choked up or losing the ball in the ruck.

"That's something we're going to have to work on next week. If we can retain the ball next week it will give us the opportunity to get at them wider.

"I hope we can take a bit of confidence from the game. We had them under pressure, scored a good try in the second half to level things up.

"If we can make it tight maybe we can come out the right side of it."



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