Sunday 19 January 2020

McGahan fears ambush as Ulster big guns return

David Kelly

David Kelly

Having effectively conceded a walkover to Leinster on St Stephen's Day, Ulster will be keen to ensure their enforced gamble pays off against Munster at Ravenhill tomorrow night.

Needlessly handicapped by a ridiculous four-day turnaround, both teams will be without their Irish contingent for the sold-out clash in a timely expression of the ongoing IRFU/provincial spat.

For their part, forced to contend with a full-strength Connacht on Monday, Tony McGahan's Munster side will be weakened still further by the Irish national camp taking place in Carton House.

Already reeling from the IRFU's decision to hastily ramrod through their proposals on player succession, Munster will have faced the stiffest of all tasks in the festive period.

"We've a few guys who will come back into contention, which will be interesting given the team they put out against Leinster," said McGahan through gritted teeth.

"They're lying in wait for four points against us so it will be a big challenge."

Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan, Dave O'Callaghan, Conor Murray, Ronan O'Gara and Keith Earls are all missing for Munster, while Ulster, so reliant on their South African contingent, will be expected to cope better without Tom Court, Andrew Trimble, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris.

"It's a big ask," continued McGahan. "We'll have our own thought process on that. They've put out their 'A' side against Leinster and held back their first XV, apart from one or two.

"It's a huge task for us with a fresh side waiting for us. But we'll relish that opportunity. The side we put out will be well up for it."

Hence, the pressure is on Ulster -- languishing in eighth place in the league, 12 points behind Munster -- as captain Johann Muller appreciates.

"For this match I won't have to say too much," said Muller, who will again partner Dan Tuohy at lock, with Willie Faloon, Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg in the back-row.

"There has been a great level of energy during training for those boys who had a week off. There is nothing like a week off to refresh the body and the mind.

"We know what's coming. Munster are an outstanding rugby team, but we are at home and we have a pretty good record there.

"Munster are two drop-goals away from being at the bottom of their pool in Europe. That's how close it is. The difference between winning and losing is so minimal.

"Munster are a team that never says die -- it is the one thing that I have learned since I came to Ireland. If they don't win, they always seem to get a bonus point. So consistency is a key word for them. And Ulster as a squad and a province must learn from them."

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin is under pressure after a run of poor league form -- six defeats in 11 games -- but he has not given up hope of moving quickly up the table.

And, after slating the IRFU over their player-succession policy earlier this week, he hasn't allowed the fixture schedulers to escape his wrath either, after the barmy decision to force Ulster to play twice in four days.

"When the fixture list came out we weren't very happy that we had a four-day turnaround," he said. "I think TV decided that. Leinster and ourselves wanted the game on Christmas Eve. RTE pushed it to Monday night.

"We want to put our best team out on the pitch as often as we possibly can but, like the Irish management looks after its international players, we have to look after the players we have.

"If it is still mathematically possible for us to reach the top four, then we will keep up trying. There are still a lot of games to play."

Irish Independent

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